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Ireland, Afghanistan join cricket's elite

Cricket

Ireland and Afghanistan have been voted in as full members of the International Cricket Council, meaning they can play Test matches against the world's elite countries.

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The ICC announced the decision following a unanimous vote at the governing body’s full council meeting overnight, Australian time, with the two entrants becoming the first newcomers since Bangladesh in 2000 and taking the number of full ICC members to 12.

ICC chief executive David Richardson said the countries deserved their elevated status because of “their dedication to improving performance both off and on the field resulting in the significant development and growth of cricket in their respective countries”.

Ireland and Afghanistan have been playing as associate members since 1993 and 2013, respectively.

“For a nation like Afghanistan, it is a huge and remarkable achievement,” said Shafiq Stanikzai, chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board.

“Afghanistan cricket has gone from strength to strength and we dared to dream that this would happen and today it has become a reality.”

While Afghanistan gained ODI status only in 2011 and has appeared in one Cricket World Cup (in 2015), Ireland has enjoyed more success at the limited-overs format, appearing in the last three World Cups and beating Pakistan and England in that time.

Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland, said the vote was a “reflection not just of our past achievements but of our potential to grow our great game.”

He was hopeful Ireland’s progression to a Test-playing nation will stop the country’s best players defecting to England.

Dublin-born Eoin Morgan, England’s One-Day and Twenty20 captain, turned out for Ireland in 23 ODIs before switching his allegiance and representing England from 2009.

Now though, Ireland’s up and coming stars will have a chance to grace the world stage while wearing the green shirts of their homeland.

“It is no secret that Ireland chased this dream, number one because Test cricket is the best, it is the pinnacle format and that which the best players define their legacy in the game,” Deutrom said.

“It is because of that, it was the reason that was stated by some of our brightest and best in recent years that they wished to play for England.

“So therefore, we realised that unless we were sharing the same dream as our best players we always had the risk of losing them.

“While I can’t sit here and say definitively no Irishmen is ever going to play again for England, what I can say is at least the reason that the reason given in the past for them to leave no longer exists.”

Deutrom and Afghan counterpart Shafiq Stanikzai said there were no firm plans to announce their first respective Tests but neither ruled out the two newcomers meeting in 2018, with Deutrom hopeful of a clash with England the following year.

War-torn Afghanistan is celebrating its national team’s entry into Test cricket, saying it’s a dream come true after years of bloody violence.

“I can’t express right now how excited I am,” said Shir Agha Hamkar, Afghanistan cricket’s team manager.

“It was a big dream of the cricket board, our team and every Afghan. Afghanistan has made tremendous progress, in the last few years. We have been playing very good cricket, beating full members like Zimbabwe,” he said at a celebration where a special cake was shared to mark the occasion.

“Thanks to all the players as well. They have shown their talent to the world and shown that yes, we deserve to be a full member nation,” he said.

Afghanistan are expected to continue to play home games in the Indian city of Noida due to security concerns.

“Today is a historic day for the Afghan people because in such a political situation of Afghanistan, Afghan cricket has obtained full membership status. Today is a historic day for Afghanistan, every Afghan is happy,” said Dost Mohammad Nazari, deputy head of the Afghanistan Cricket Board.

Cricket has undergone a boom in recent years in Afghanistan with the rise of Twenty20 cricket, its big-hitting and constant action generating huge interest among fans.

A new generation of supporters has avidly followed the team’s growing success.

After a last-gasp victory over Zimbabwe last year, heavy gunfire broke out in the Afghan capital Kabul as ecstatic supporters, who had watched on television, let off automatic weapons into the air, lighting up the sky with tracer bullets and prompting initial fears of an attack by insurgents.

The ICC said it has also unanimously agreed to a new financial model to give greater equality in the distribution of the governing body’s income.

For the cycle 2016-2023, the Board of Control for Cricket in India will receive $US405 million ($A536 million) across the eight-year cycle, the England and Wales Cricket Board will get $US139 million, Zimbabwe Cricket gets $US94 million and the seven other existing full members get $US128 million each.

-AP

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