When India hosts Afghanistan for the latter’s debut Test sometime next year, it will be the third time it ushers a new country into the Test fold, or field. India played hand-holder to Bangladesh in 2000 and Zimbabwe in 1992, and has in fact been the welcoming party to every country but Sri Lanka after gaining Test status in 1932. But there was an Indian hand in preparing the Lankans for the big league, too, through the M.J. Gopalan Trophy, where top Indian players would face a strong Tamil Nadu team annually. It was India again who hailed the return of South Africa from the apartheid ban in 1991 and was the first team to tour there after two decades of sporting isolation.
India has been lending a hand to Afghanistan, considered by many as the most improved team in world cricket, for a while now. The Afghans shifted their base from Sharjah to Greater Noida in 2015, and have been playing their “home” games at the UPCA Stadium in Noida for nearly two years. They’ve also had the likes of Lalchand Rajput and Manoj Prabhakar in their coaching staff, and earlier this year, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi became the first Afghanistan cricketers to play in the IPL. This should only be the start though. Considering their muscle in world cricket matters, the BCCI and Indian cricket have the power to propel cricket into becoming a global sport, not just monopolised by a select few in the Commonwealth.
Of late, India has been blamed for limiting the expansion of cricket, especially during the infamous Big Three era. The BCCI was a firm supporter of the ICC’s decision to limit the next World Cup to just 10 teams, which will leave the likes of Afghanistan and Ireland — the other new Test entrant — fighting for two spots. Critics have noted that even their next four-year programme, announced on Monday, ensures they play nearly 51 per cent of Tests only against England, Australia and South Africa. It is reassuring then that India has stuck to at least one tradition, that of opening the door for a fledgling team.