Two years ago, driving down Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, I was asked by a taxi driver about Irish cricket and the country’s stature in the cricketing world.
It was just after the 2015 World Cup where the Emerald Isle had beaten West Indies and Zimbabwe in the group stages.
Although the tournament didn’t end on a fairytale note, with failure to reach the knockout phase, it reiterated just how far the Men in Green had come.
Indeed, it was yet more evidence that they were no longer there just to make up the numbers and deserved greater recognition alongside the other major nations in the game.
Whilst we are all aware of the scale of which Twenty20 cricket has changed the game, Test cricket and with it its long history, for many, always will be the true test.
‘Why no Test cricket (for Ireland), sir?’. That was a question by my enthusiastic Pakistani taxi driver to which I couldn’t respond.
He could tell me the names of some of the players – the likes of Kevin and Niall O’Brien, William Porterfield and Ed Joyce, men who have been at the pinnacle of cricket in Ireland for nearly a decade.
It struck me then that Ireland’s players were becoming more recognised on a global stage, but why were they not playing there more regularly?
Even as Ireland beat some of the game’s elite – Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011 in limited overs cricket – their bid for Test status and the prospect of joining the other 10 Full Members was consistently ignored.
Thursday’s decision by the ICC to grant Ireland – along with Afghanistan – full membership and Test cricket status is a significant day in the country’s sporting history and puts an end to a decade-long quest to join cricket’s elite.
Test cricket, despite all its grandeur, is going through a tough time with smaller audiences turning up to watch matches and the lure of playing T20 instead proving too great for some, but still, Ireland’s promotion to the Test ranks is huge news for world cricket and a positive story for the game.
Of course, matches against top-ranked India, South Africa and Australia won’t come any time soon, but Tests against the likes of West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan will definitely help the profile of the sport, add more commercial revenue and appeal to a greater Irish audience.
One of the men at the epicentre of the sport in Ireland is Ed Joyce, who at 38, has played 249 first class matches over an 11-year international career – which included a stint playing for England, for which he scored a World Cup century against Australia. In May, he decided to retire from county cricket with Sussex to help Ireland chase the Test cricket dream.
Although the left-handed batsman is edging towards the end of his glittering career, time is still on his side as he attempts to inspire a younger generation of players wearing the green jersey.
Paul Stirling (26) has slowly progressed to the fore of the batting order too and always looks in control when at the crease. His stunning 101 against Netherlands in the 2011 World Cup was the fourth fastest century in 50-over history and is one of a number of players who can have their role to play in the Test arena.
On the bowling side, the totemic George Dockrell (24) is in his eighth season with the team and looks instrumental with the ball in hand – yet another fine example of how Ireland have produced cricketers with plenty of talent about them.
It’s going to be a long and winding road for Irish cricket as the months and years progress, but with confirmation that Ireland are now part of the five-day game, this should give the country a solid foundation from which to grow further. There’s so much scope for development moving forward.
For example, in May, Ireland played two ODIs against England and drew a crowd of 22,000 for game two at Lord’s. Could it be a case now that the two nations make this an annual series, with at least one Test match too, given that it’s early in the season and before the so-called bigger nations arrive?
The journey may have only just begun but it’s fitting to know Ireland are placed alongside the other top nations and are seen a major player in world cricket.
2001 – Become an affiliate member of the ICC.
2009 – Play in their first official ODI match, defeating Scotland by 89 runs.
2010 – Participate in the ICC World T20 for the first time.
2013 – Become an associate member of the ICC.
2015 – Participate in the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time. A win against Scotland sees them end the group stages with two points.
2016 – Defeat West Indies, who would go on to become eventual champions, in the ICC World T20.
2017 – Become a full member of the ICC and, thereby, attain Test status.
Being a cricket loving nation what else we could have asked for than getting this prestigious status . @ICC— Mohammad Nabi (@MohammadNabi007) June 22, 2017
1993 – Become an associate member of the ICC.
2006 – Play in their first official ODI match, but lose to England by 38 runs. They would defeat Scotland to register their first ODI win a few weeks later.
2007 – Participate in the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time and reach the Super 8 stage after a tied match against Zimbabwe and a win against Pakistan.
2009 – Participate in the ICC World T20 for the first time and defeat Bangladesh en route to reaching the Super 8 stage of the tournament.
2011 – Defeat England in a World Cup match thanks to a brilliant century from Kevin O’Brien.
2015 – Another World Cup, another big win for Ireland as they get the better of the West Indies.
2017 – Become a full member of the ICC and, thereby, attain Test status.
Had to pull the car over. Can't see through the tears. Today the dream has come true. Congrats to everyone involved with @Irelandcricket.— Kyle McCallan (@KMcOffie) June 22, 2017
The rise of Afghanistan cricket has been one of the most heart-warming cricketing stories in recent years.
One of their best moments came when they managed to defeat eventual champions West Indies during the 2016 ICC World T20.
Earlier this year, they showed that they are ready for Test cricket after they beat Ireland by an innings and 172 runs in the ICC Intercontinental Cup.
Here are two Afghanistan cricketers you should look out for.
Mohammad Nabi is a name that has been synonymous with Afghanistan cricket over the years. The 32-year-old has a lot of experience behind him, having represented his country in 83 ODIs and 58 T20Is.
Spin bowling is currently one of the big strengths of the Afghanistan team and Nabi is an integral part of that.
An all-rounder, Nabi has a superb record in first-class cricket: 1159 runs at an average of 25.75 and 81 wickets at an average of 22.40 in 30 matches.
A lot of people were surprised when Sunrisers Hyderabad spent INR 4 crore to acquire the services of Rashid Khan at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction earlier this year. They weren’t surprised anymore after watching the 18-year-old perform in the tournament as he bamboozled some of the top batsmen in the world with his bowling.
Everytime I see Rashid Khan, he looks more impressive. Great talent. Has made the step up remarkably— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) 17 May 2017
Rashid is one of the upcoming stars in world cricket and it’s great news for the sport that he will now be able to represent his country in Tests. A leg-spinner, he has remarkable stats when it comes to the ODI and T20I formats.
He has so far played two first-class matches, including one against the England Lions in December 2016 – a game in which he picked up 12 wickets. Also, watch out for some handy contributions with the bat from Rashid.
Test cricket for Ireland is something that has been a long time coming. Their qualification for the Super 8 stage in the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup was a big moment in their cricketing history.
In the two 50-over World Cups after that, they managed to defeat England in 2011 and the West Indies in 2015 which again showed that they can challenge the full member teams.
Here are two Ireland cricketers you should look out for.
Ed Joyce’s experience of having scored over 18000 runs at an average of almost 48 in 250 first-class matches should definitely come in handy for the Irish team.
He is one of the few players to have played for two teams at the international level, having represented England during 2006-07. Since 2011, the left-handed batsman has played for Ireland with distinction.
At the age of 38, Joyce will be keen to make the most out of his time in Test cricket.
Another Irish player who played for England, Boyd Rankin has played one Test which came during the 2013-14 Ashes.
Since then, Rankin has returned to play for Ireland and was part of the team at the ICC World T20 in 2016.
A tall pacer, the 32-year-old has a lot of experience under his belt, having played 99 first-class matches in which he has picked up 319 wickets at an average of 26.64.