The rise of Afghanistan and Ireland in the ranks of international cricket gathered pace on Thursday when they were voted in as full ICC members, meaning they can play Test matches against the world's elite countries. By becoming the first countries to receive Test status since Bangladesh in 2000, they took the number of Test-playing nations to 12. The first Tests for Afghanistan and Ireland could be against each other, as early as next year, although no firm plans were in place.
The growth of cricket in Afghanistan has been particularly astonishing, given that most members of the current team learned to play while growing up in refugee camps in bordering Pakistan. The sport is rapidly gaining a solid fan base in Afghanistan, with the national team gaining ODI status only in 2011, qualifying for its first Cricket World Cup in 2015, and recently drawing an ODI series with West Indies.
"We dared to dream that this would happen," said Shafiq Stanikzai, chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, "and today it has become a reality."
Ireland have enjoyed more success at the limited-overs format, appearing in the last three World Cups and beating Pakistan and England in that time. Ireland and Afghanistan have been playing as associate members since 1993 and 2013, respectively.
"It is a reflection not just of our past achievements," said Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland, "but of our potential to grow our great game. "Test cricket is the pinnacle."
Deutrom said he hopes it will stop the player drain from Ireland to England's national team. Eoin Morgan, an Irishman, is captain of England's ODI side.
Ireland could play England in a Test match in 2019. The ICC announced the decision following a unanimous vote at a full council meeting in London.
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."
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 $405 million across the eight-year cycle, the England and Wales Cricket Board will get $139 million, Zimbabwe Cricket gets $94 million, and the seven other existing full members get $128 million each.
Ireland and Afghanistan are currently receiving $20 million each in this cycle, Richardson said, but that figure could rise to $40 million following discussions at the conference on Friday.