London - Afghanistan and Ireland are poised to become the
11th and 12th members of Test match cricket's close-knit club on Thursday when
the sport's governing body meets in London.
It's been almost two decades since Bangladesh were the last
country to be granted Test status but International Cricket Council (ICC) chief
executive David Richardson believes both Afghanistan and Ireland have
"It's never wise to try and make a call too early, but
certainly the applications of both are very well founded," said
"They both, on the face of it, meet the majority, if
not all, of the full member criteria that has been set.
"I'm optimistic that they'll be given serious consideration
to have every chance of succeeding."
No longer rank minnows, Asghar Stanikzai's Afghanistan are
up for consideration following their victories over Ireland in the
Intercontinental Cup in March.
Unlike the sport's other major players, Afghanistan was
never a colony of the British Empire.
Instead many Afghans' first contact with the sport took
place during the 1980s and 1990s, as refugees fled to Pakistan to escape the
Cricket struggled under the hardline Islamist Taliban, who
viewed sports as a distraction from religious duties - and famously shaved the
heads of a visiting Pakistani football team as punishment for wearing shorts.
But it has become hugely popular in the country since the
regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Recent successes, particularly in last year's ICC World
Twenty20, have further raised the country's profile.
Spinners Rashid Khan, who idolises former Pakistan
international Shahid Afridi, and Mohammad Nabi both made their mark in the
Indian Premier League.
Khan was the sixth-highest wicket-taker in his debut IPL
with 17 scalps, and the pair broke into the top 10 of the ICC one-day
international bowling rankings during the just-concluded tour of the West
Their former batting coach and former Pakistan skipper
Rashid Latif said a place among the Test nations was well deserved and would
benefit them in the future.
"Afghanistan deserves Test status because their
performances are good. Once they get to play Tests, more and more players will
come forward just like happened in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - Kenya suffered
because they were not awarded," he said.
"I think it will be the ICC's best decision of the
Last year, Afghanistan's national team shifted its base from
Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Noida, Delhi, while India's former
batsman Lalchand Rajput replaced Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq as their national
There are nevertheless questions about how well Afghanistan
and Ireland will do in the game's longest format.
Bangladesh famously floundered for their first decade while
New Zealand took 26 years to win their first Test.
Ireland, meanwhile, have beaten the West Indies, England and
Pakistan in their time.
However, standing on the verge of Test status is a far cry
from the years when the highlight of Ireland's season was the visit for a one-off
match by the touring Test team to England or, in alternate years, a two-day
game at Lord's against MCC, invariably made up of Minor County players.
The old Irish Cricket Union was founded in 1855 - Phoenix
Cricket Club, founded 25 years earlier, is one of the oldest in the British
Isles - but it was not until more than a century later that the Ireland team
first made the rest of the cricket world take notice.
On July 2 1969, Ireland dismissed the West Indies for just
25 at Sion Mills in a match recorded for all time by television.
It has gone into folklore that the West Indies, who had
flown in the night before, after the conclusion of the Lord's Test, had
immediately availed themselves of some typically generous Irish hospitality.
But whatever the truth of that, they were bundled out in
25.3 remarkable overs.
Ireland knocked off the runs for the loss of one wicket, but
with the game over so quickly, the teams agreed to play on and West Indies even
had a second innings, reaching a more respectable 78 for four, after Ireland
had declared on 125 for eight.