KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan celebrated its entry into test cricket on Thursday, saying it was a dream come true for the country which has suffered from years of violence and conflict.
The International Cricket Council voted in London to make Afghanistan, along with Ireland, full members of the organisation, allowing those countries to become part of the elite 12 nations who play test matches.
"I can’t express right now how excited I am," said Shir Agha Hamkar, Afghanistan cricket's team manager.
"It was a big dream of the cricket board, our team and every Afghan. Afghanistan has made tremendous progress, in the last few years. We have been playing very good cricket, beating full members like Zimbabwe," he said at a celebration where a special cake was shared to mark the occasion.
"Thanks to all the players as well. They have shown their talent to the world and shown that yes, we deserve to be a full member nation," he said.
Afghanistan are likely to play their first test match in 2018 and are expected to continue to play home games in the Indian city of Noida due to security concerns.
"Today is a historic day for the Afghan people because in such a political situation of Afghanistan, Afghan cricket has obtained full membership status. Today is a historic day for Afghanistan, every Afghan is happy," said Dost Mohammad Nazari, deputy head of the Afghanistan Cricket Board.
Cricket has undergone a boom in recent years in Afghanistan with the rise of Twenty20 cricket, its big-hitting and constant action generating huge interest among fans.
A new generation of supporters has avidly followed the team’s growing success.
After a last-gasp victory over Zimbabwe last year, heavy gunfire broke out in the Afghan capital Kabul as ecstatic supporters, who had watched on television, let off automatic weapons into the air, lighting up the sky with tracer bullets and prompting initial fears of an attack by insurgents.
"This is a huge thing for the whole nation. We’re all proud of this cricket team and cricket board," said journalist Rahim Gul Sarwan.
"We’re so happy and I hope that in the next five or three years, Afghanistan will be in a position to beat big teams in the cricket world.”
Reporting by Sayed Hassib, Mohammad Aziz, James Mackenzie, writing by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond