A decade-long campaign by Cricket Ireland to achieve full member status in the international game was confirmed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in a 17-word tweet just after 3.20pm on Thursday afternoon.
Although all the signs were that both Ireland and Afghanistan’s applications to join the other 10 Test-playing nations had ticked all the 21 boxes required, the vagaries of international cricketing politics left nobody 100 per cent certain until the tweet was sent out to confirm a unanimous decision had been taken by the full council of the ICC at its annual conference at The Oval in London.
Both sides are now eligible to play Test match cricket for the first time; indeed the two countries that have led the way in Associate cricket over the last decade are likely to see plenty of each other over the coming years as the new proposed international programme beds in.
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom will also look to hold England and Wales Cricket Board president Giles Clarke to his "guarantee" of a Test match between the countries once Ireland had won Test status.
Speaking at The Oval following the historic decision, Deutrom was quick to bring up Clarke’s promise, made at the beginning of 2014.
“You won’t be surprised to hear about the fact that when I sit down with Tom Harrison [ECB chief executive] I will be reminding him that Giles did refer to the glittering prize of the potential of playing against England at Lord’s,” said Deutrom, who pointed at the summer of 2019 as a likely date for the game.
Afghanistan are likely to become Ireland's first Test opponent, with Zimbabwe another possibility, while Deutrom confirmed that congratulations from other countries in London yesterday also came with "come talk to us" offers from some.
On when Ireland will play its first Test match, Deutrom added: “I think the answer is somewhere between wanting to make sure that we have the appropriate occasion to play our very first Test match against not wanting to wait years for it to happen.”
ICC chief executive David Richardson outlined how he believes the new funding model will benefit Ireland and Afghanistan, who are still bundled with the other Associate countries at present, sharing $240 million (€215 million) over the next eight-year cycle.
At present, both countries were due to receive approximately $20 million (€18 million) each over the eight years, with Richardson willing to speculate that both countries “could expect that amount to increase 100 per cent over the next eight-year cycle”.
A lot will become clearer after Friday’s final day of ICC Conference in London – including whether Ireland will part-host next year’s World Cup qualifying competition – and the ICC’s next scheduled full meeting in October, when it is expected that a new playing programme for all formats of the game will be confirmed.
Irish cricket can allow itself some time to enjoy the moment over the next few days before the hard work begins again in Cricket Ireland’s goal of making cricket a mainstream sport in the Irish sporting landscape once again.
Writing from the Phoenix Park, where Ireland’s first recorded cricket game took place in 1792, Irish President Michael D Higgins said: “On this special day for all those who are passionate about the sport of cricket, I pay tribute to the talent and commitment of the players and coaching staff, as well as to Cricket Ireland and all the fans, whose support has made this momentous occasion possible.”
Deutrom – who deserves high praise for his steadfast driving of Cricket Ireland’s ambitions over the last decade – again diffused any praise, saying: “We are delighted and proud with today’s historic announcement. It is an extraordinary testament to the talent and endeavour of thousands of passionate players, coaches, volunteers, staff, clubs and committee people.”
Onwards and upwards.
Q&A What ICC decision means
Hold on, did we just become a Test-playing nation at the stroke of a pen?
Not quite, a long 10-year process came down to a vote at the ICC’s Annual Conference at The Oval in London on Thursday, which decided to make Ireland and Afghanistan full members and join the other 10 as Test-playing nations.
So can I get the picnic basket out and plan to watch a Test match in Malahide or Belfast this summer?
Not this summer, but Ireland hope to play a Test match in 2018, more than likely against Afghanistan or Zimbabwe. A lot more will be known in October when the future international programme will be confirmed.
And what about England, do we get to have a go at them in a Test match at Lord’s?
It could happen in 2019 and ECB president Giles Clarke did make an offer of a Test if Ireland were awarded full member status.
And what about Eoin Morgan, will he come back and play Test cricket for Ireland now?
Highly unlikely, but it is hoped that by Ireland having gained Test status that no more Irish players will feel the need to declare for England just to play what is considered the pinnacle of the sport.
And are bags of cash about to flow into Cricket Ireland’s coffers?
ICC chief executive David Richardson said that both Ireland and Afghanistan can expect to see their funding doubled over the next eight-year cycle at least, raising it from €18 million to €36 million per country.
What happens next, when do we get started?
The news provides a huge boost to Irish cricket. A full professional interprovincial cricket competition could help boost the national men’s team, while the women’s international and youth cricket – through academies – all require continued investment to keep growing.