The International Cricket Council (ICC) brought joy not only in Ireland and Afghanistan but also to the thousands of cricket fans who have closely followed these two nations grow in the game of cricket. Yes, Ireland and Afghanistan were finally welcomed in the ICC as their 11th and 12th Test-playing members. Ever since Ireland caused major upsets like knocking out Pakistan from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 and England from the 2011 edition, they had managed to develop a soft corner for themselves in many a hearts. On the other hand, the Afghans’ journey from nowhere to the elite level in a cash-rich game like cricket is an inspiration. They have come a long way; from being a country that could not afford a home cricket ground for its players, Afghanistan today has finally opened the ‘Test cricket doors’ for them.
While Ireland and Afghanistan’s wait for a Test status seemed never ending, countries like Zimbabwe despite getting an early Test status have never made full use of it. It has always been sad watching Zimbabwe hardly play any Tests every year when the enthusiast ones, Ireland and Afghanistan were not even eligible to play the five-day game. Since the Irish were the first ones among the two to gain a One-Day International (ODI) status, their presence has been around on the higher level for some time now.
The factor that set Ireland apart from other upcoming cricketing nations has been their passion for the game. Although Ireland had not reached the last four in the 2007, 2011 and 2015 Cricket World Cups, their historic wins against Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2007, against England in 2011 and against West Indies in 2015 was enough to boost cricket’s popularity in the country.
After they had managed to go toe to toe with Full ICC Members nations, their next agenda was to obtain a Test status. There was a huge hurdle in front of them. Ireland did not have a well structured domestic circuit. Until 2012, the Irish cricketers at times played in competitions for English county cricket sides. By August 2011, Cricket Ireland announced plans of a domestic First-Class tournament which would get them the Test status, at least by 2020. They successfully launched their First-Class tournament, Inter-Provincial Championship in 2013 and within the next four years, Ireland became a Full ICC Member.
The Irish Cricket Union (ICU) – the governing body of Irish cricket did not want the likes of Kevin O’Brien, William Porterfield, George Dockrell and Ed Joyce go the ‘Eoin Morgan way.’ An Irish, Morgan, played ODIs for Ireland. But back then, Ireland was only an associate member and a young talented Morgan aimed to play Test cricket. Hence, he had moved to England and by that Ireland had lost a skillful player. Today, Morgan is the captain of England’s limited-overs side.
Talking about Afghanistan, they earned an ODI status only in 2009 and have seemed to have climbed up the ladder in no time.
Picking the weaknesses of the likes of Zimbabwe and the West Indies, the Afghans recently secured series wins against these higher-ranked teams. While Afghanistan defeated the Zimbabweans in three straight ODI and T20I series, their biggest win came when they thumped West Indies in the ODI series at their backyard. Also, Afghanistan was the only team to have beaten the eventual champions, West Indies, in the ICC World T20 2016. Considering how dominant the Windies are in the shortest format, a win against them in a World T20 match spoke volumes about a young Afghan side.
Both Ireland and Afghanistan have demonstrated their intentions of eyeing the Test status with their results in the Intercontinental Cup, the ICC’s first-class competition for Associates, in the recent few years. While Ireland had been unstoppable, winning four out of the last five tournaments, Afghanistan interrupted the streak as they had clinched the 2010 edition. Afghanistan has only lost once in the 20 Intercontinental Cup matches they’ve played, that coming in 2013 final to Ireland. Ireland’s record is just as enviable, with 24 wins, three losses and 10 draws in 37 matches.
The 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup is underway where Afghanistan is the table toppers, with a point’s lead over the Irish. However, the two nations now proudly leave the tournament behind as they walk into the new path that has the Test cricket’s doors wide open for them!