In June of this year, Ireland and Afghanistan were rewarded for their continual improvement with statuses as ICC Full Members. Since then, the cricket boards of the two nations have been on the lookout for potential opponents, and they have now both confirmed the matchups in their inaugural Test Matches
Despite playing cricket for close to 200 years, Afghanistan has never been recognised as a cricket playing nation worthy of significant exposure on the International stage.
In 2011, that began to change as they earned ODI status for a four year period. This came largely due to a continual dedication to the growth of cricket in the country, and despite a failure to progress to the ICC World Cup. This devotion continued to pay dividends in the coming years, as they were rewarded with an Associate Membership of the ICC in 2013.
Two years later, and Afghanistan made its first ICC Cricket World Cup. Their first game resulted in a disappointing 105 run loss to Bangladesh, and was followed by a gallant four wicket defeat to Sri Lanka. On the 26th of February, Afghanistan made history with a thrilling first-ever victory at the World Cup. They defeated Scotland by one wicket, chasing down 210 with just three balls to spare.
The subsequent decision to grant them the status of a Test Playing Nation is just reward for years of hard work. After months of searching for an appropriate opponent for their inaugural Test Match, it appeared Afghanistan would have to wait until 2019 to get their chance in a match scheduled against Australia.
India, though, were asked by the Afghanistan Cricket Board to host their first Test Match in 2018, and the BCCI appeared happy to do so. As BCCI secretary Amitabh Choudhary stated, ‘considering the historic relationship between India and Afghanistan, we decided to host their first Test.’
In India there can never be too much cricket, and fans will no doubt be excited by the prospect of an extra match on the calendar. The fact that it will be steeped in history makes the anticipation that little bit stronger. Though not many people will give Afghanistan a chance, particularly given the strength of India as a Test Playing Nation, the historic nature of the game will be enough to illicit substantial support for the game.
The Irish have demonstrated a propensity for the sport for a number of years now, which ultimately prompted their newfound status as a Test Playing Nation. They first played in the ICC World Cup in 2007, and comfortably outperformed expectations. After starting off with a tie against Zimbabwe, they defeated the then 4th ranked Pakistan team by three wickets, which was enough to take them through to the Super 8 Stage. In the 2011 World Cup, they added another impressive victory to their list of achievements, chasing down 327 against England behind a 63 ball knock of 113 from Kevin O’Brien.
Clearly these results demonstrated that the nation was capable of being more than just a minnow. A consistent ability to challenge and defeat cricketing nations with long and illustrious history was evident, as was the presence of a number of highly talented players. Ultimately, these factors combined to create a compelling case for their inclusion into the Test Arena, and in June of this year, that dream became a reality.
In October it was announced that Ireland’s first ever Test Match will be played against Pakistan. It will be played in Ireland, and will take place in May of 2018. The fact that it will be played in Ireland is fantastic news for both the team, and the nation as a whole. Fans will have the opportunity to personally welcome their heroes to the Test Arena, while the players will enjoy playing what will no doubt be a nerve-filled game in front of their home crowd.
Pakistan is ranked sixth in the world in Test Matches, and will no doubt be comfortable favourites against an Irish team with no experience in this form of the game. Despite this, the game is sure to be exciting viewing. The first Test Match ever to be played in Ireland, and the first Test Match ever to involve the Irish, this will be a groundbreaking occasion, and one which will no doubt be watched with interest by cricket lovers around the world.
Many believe Test Cricket is in decline, but huge portions of cricket lovers around the world still view it as the most challenging, exciting, and purest form of the game. With the introduction of two new teams into the Test playing arena, and a Test World Championship on the horizon, it would appear this form of the game isn’t going away any time soon.