A dream come true for Afghanistan and Ireland

The elevation of Afghanistan and Ireland to full-member status of the ICC offers other associate members the hope that if they continue to make progress, they too can join the elite club of countries that get to play the oldest format of the game — Test cricket.

Afghanistan coach Inzamam-ul-Haq (centre) speaks to his players during the ICC World Twenty20 tournament last year. Despite the dearth of facilities, Afghanistan has made stupendous progress and fully deserves its promotion to full-member status, writes the columnist.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

The ICC’s decision to promote Ireland and Afghanistan to full-member status has been noteworthy to say the least, and gives other associate member countries the hope that if they continue to make progress, they too can join the elite club of countries that get to play the oldest format of the game — Test cricket.

Ireland had, for quite some years now, been asking to be promoted, but despite most — if not all — of its players playing in the English county cricket, and thus gaining valuable experience, the team’s performances in the ICC world events were always patchy. Ireland promised a lot, but delivered little apart from the odd upset in these tournaments.

Clearly, English cricket is not as competitive as it was some time back, and it hasn’t helped the Irish players as much as was hoped. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has made stupendous progress despite not having even a fraction of the facilities that Ireland has. Afghanistan fully deserves its promotion to full-member status. The Afghanistan players will not only be big draws in the various T20 leagues around the world but, as was seen in the Indian Premier League this year, they will be major contributors too.

If anything, Ireland owes its full-member status to Afghanistan because at the end of the day it all boils down to the vote at the ICC. Therefore, it was always going to be two countries that were going to be promoted so that the status quo is maintained. It is expected that Afghanistan will vote with the Asian block, while Ireland will be with the ‘old powers’. So there was no way one nation was going to be promoted since that would upset the voting pattern.

Be that as it may, the question now is how will the Irish players be treated as far as the English county cricket is considered. So far, they have not been considered as overseas players despite Ireland playing as a separate team in all the ICC events. But what will their status be now?

We have already seen how the Kolpak route is taken by players who have another country’s passport but can play in the English county cricket since someone in their family is British. Similarly, many associate countries have used players, who were not good enough to represent the country where they actually reside and play first-class cricket and whose passport they hold, to play for them on the basis of the players’ parents or grandparents being born in that associate country. Common sense tells us that a player should only play for the country whose passport he holds, though there are cases of dual nationality that allows some players to bypass this.

At this stage, it may not be lucrative for the Irish players to play for Ireland if it means that they have to give up playing in England as overseas players. Time will tell, but don’t be surprised if the ‘old powers’ do something canny that will allow the Irish players to have their cake and eat it too! If that happens, then Afghan players also should be allowed to play for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or India, if either they or their parents or grandparents have been born in these countries.

While the progress made by Afghanistan has been phenomenal indeed, it is sad to see that most other associate countries have not been able to develop the game as much as they should have. Countries like The Netherlands, UAE, Namibia and Kenya have taken one step forward, then two steps backward, and so have missed out on the promotion to the full-member club. Hong Kong, Nepal and Singapore are some other countries where the interest in the game is pretty good. So it is all the more disappointing that they haven’t been able to take advantage of that and make the kind of progress they should have. While they do not get the kind of funds that full-member countries receive, the fact remains that most of the funds that are allocated are usually squandered on the travel, etc., of the officials instead of spending on the development of the game. Perhaps forensic accounting needs to be done before any further funds are allocated to some of these countries. Why only these countries, even full-member countries could do with forensic accounting of how they spend the funds that they receive from the ICC.

That, of course, will mostly be a pipe dream but as Ireland and Afghanistan have shown, some dreams do come true.

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