Afghanistan and Ireland during an ODI in Greater Noida, India in March this year. Photo: Altaf Qadri, AP

They tell us cricket is changing, and that priorities are moving more towards franchises, and this fury of fast-money leagues sprouting up like a mercenary’s acne around the world.

And yet, the game and those entrenched within will tell you that there are those who care about its traditions, its future and its growth.

There are those who say that for all the sixes, the switch-hits, the flicks, flops, paddles and variations, real cricket is the sort that wears white, starts in the morning, and ends at the setting of the sun.

The summer, for these people, truly begins when a Test match plays out at Lord’s and there is a flutter of butterflies in the bellies of superstars, as the ghosts of the gloriously simple past hover over the Long Room, and stifle their instincts on the long walk to the middle of the slope.

Lord’s is a privilege, a place where the antiquated finds its eternal fountain of youth, where time and place and perspective stop.

There is a waiting list, a laborious pause that can last a quarter of a century to welcome in a new face into the ‘bacon and egg’ brigade.

Cricket, in a way, has always been a larger than life caricature of the Marylebone Cricket Club, where the main members lord it over the minions, occasionally allowing them into their parties.

And yet, we are being constantly told that cricket and the ICC are trying to find ways to be more accessible to a bigger audience.

For a game that is as global as it is – played from Napier to Nepal, watched in London as it is listened to in Langa, and encouraged from Bangalore to Brisbane and Bridgetown – the top table is still a few hues short of a truly global rainbow.

How about Dublin? And Kabul? When do they become cricketing capitals, places where the world knows for sure that cricket of sincerity is played, that heroes are born and bred there, and that it is not for fun only? When would we know that it’s for real?

This past week, that exalted table made room for more. The door was left ajar, and two more were welcomed to the fold.

Grown men pulled over on the side of Irish roads this week, their eyes welling up with joy. Men who have toiled and travelled, fought and hoped, saw all those sacrifices rewarded this week.

Afghanistan and Ireland are ICC Test members. Not associates, feeding off scraps and living off tournament pre-qualifiers.

This past week, these fiercely proud cricketing nations were told that the wait is over, even as the sharper end of the game still speaks of prioritising fixtures and national honour, and everything in between.

They are cultural poles apart, but they have never felt more brotherly. And, what is more, you will not find one of their players plotting a convenient map through the fixture list.

They will live for every chance to wear the national jersey, their conscience still vividly aware of how many would give much to have what they now possess.

The rest of the cricketing elite must now welcome these two, in a manner more urgent than they did Bangladesh. Look at how far those Tigers have gone.

Some of the game’s stars of the future wear Bengal green, and the next may yet wear the emerald of the Irish, or the sky blue of Afghanistan.

Sunday Tribune

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