The International Cricket Council’s decision to welcome Ireland and Afghanistan into the fold of cricket’s gentry is a fitting reward for their progress over a period of time, especially in the shorter version of the game. Ireland has famous wins against England and Pakistan; Afghanistan nearly won an ODI series in the Caribbean. But earning the right to wear the Test flannels hasn’t been easy for the minnows. It’s no longer like the old days, when a country had to simply illustrate the requisite cricket culture to walk away with Test status. Both these newbies had to struggle through a comparatively stringent evaluation stream. Both had to endure setbacks. Ireland helplessly watched the talent-drain to England. The political anarchy made it near inconceivable for Afghanistan to even dream of playing at home.
The new status means more riches and privileges. But these would mean nothing without tangible results. They will have to prove that they are good enough to tame the beast that is Test cricket. Sharp and cynical eyes will judge their technique and temperament and comment on their worth in what’s arguably the toughest version of cricket. They will have to constantly fight the criticism that their initiation was hasty, or that they are merely numerical embellishments in the ICC’s drive to “go global”.
The numbers reveal the new Test nations’ inexperience in first-class cricket. Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s most experienced first-class cricketer, has played just 30 first-class matches. Mohammad Shehzad is their lone double-centurion. Ed Joyce of Ireland, who played 72 ODIs and 18 T20s for England, has 250 first-class games and the highest score of 250 to his name. But no one else has scored a double hundred in the Irish team, though they have players with more first-class exposure than Afghanistan. For Afghanistan and Ireland, the transition won’t be without jerks and bumps, as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will attest to. Their supporters, and the big brothers of the game, will need to be supportive and patient.