Ireland and Afghanistan become the first new Test nations in 17 years

TEST cricket, a game played between nations over five days, is often thought to be a conservative sport. That is a myth: throughout its 140-year history, the format has constantly evolved. Until five days became the standard format, matches were played over three, four, five or six days; “timeless” Tests were played until a positive result was reached. Overs have been both six and eight balls long, delivered by players bowling overarm or underarm, on both covered and uncovered pitches. Since 2015, some Tests have even been played under floodlights with a pink ball.

But in one regard, Test cricket’s imperviousness to change is indisputable: the number of countries permitted to play. In most sports, any country has a chance to take part. Over 200 countries have played full football internationals. More than 100 have competed in full rugby internationals; almost as many have played full basketball internationals. Cricket has taken a very different approach. Only ten countries have ever played Test cricket. Elevation to the highest form of the game is viewed as a privilege that must be earned, as if the format would be belittled, and the sanctimony of statistics damaged, by adopting an inclusive approach.

Like many exclusive clubs, there has been no shortage of aspirants. But expansion has occurred at a soporific pace. The most recent new country to play…Continue reading

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