Afghanistan and Ireland have been approved as Full Members by the ICC, meaning they have become cricket's 11th and 12th Test-playing nations. This was signed off on by the ICC Board in London on Thursday, during the ICC's AGM.
Afghanistan and Ireland's boards had applied to the ICC to have their status upgraded from Associates, and this was put to vote at the meeting on Thursday and unanimously supported.
Afghanistan's rise has been very sharper having first gained ODI status in 2009 with a sixth-place finish at that year's World Cup Qualifier in South Africa. It followed three consecutive promotions over the previous year when they began in Division Five of the World Cricket League. They have demonstrated the talent to stand toe-to-toe with Full Member nations, securing three straight ODI and T20I series wins over Zimbabwe as well as a win over eventual champion West Indies at the 2016 World T20. Most recently they drew their maiden ODI series in West Indies.
"Another day that we can lock in our history and be proud," Shafiq Stanikzai, ACB chief executive, said, adding there was still more work to be done. "Every achievement is great, but it opens the door to challenges. We'll be hosting our international matches in Greater Noida and Sharjah; there should be a day when we can host inside Afghanistan."
The vote is not just an endorsement of each country's respective on-field talents but a seal of approval for efforts made in recent years to build up their domestic structures. In the last few years, Afghanistan has started a multi-day competition with other Associate members, receiving first-class designation from the ICC in the last year, a harbinger of Thursday's Full Member affirmation.
Despite neighboring some of the titans of international cricket, Afghanistan does not have a long tradition of its own in the sport. The first generation of Afghan players were all from the refugee camps in Pakistan, the team is now beginning to include those who have grown up in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban The popularity of the sport has provided a promising array of young players motivated to compete regularly against full members.
Since 2005, Afghanistan has demonstrated its readiness for five-day cricket through its dominance in the Intercontinental Cup, the ICC's first-class competition for Associates. Afghanistan has won the 2010 edition and holding a one-point lead after securing an innings victory at Greater Noida over Ireland earlier this year.
Afghanistan have only lost once in the 20 Intercontinental Cup matches they've played, that coming in the 2013 final to Ireland. Both Afghanistan and Ireland will now be leaving that competition behind at the end of the year, with the door to Test cricket now wide open to them.