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 Richardsonbelieves both Afghanistan and Ireland have impressive credentials.
“It’s never wise to try and make a call too early, but certainly the applications of both are very well founded,” said Richardson.
“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 Soviet invasion.
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 Indies.
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 century.”
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 team coach.
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.