Afghanistan ready for full membership: Shafiq Stanikzai

prv_16af3_1472289257Ahead of a crux International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting next month, Shafiq Stanikzai, Afghanistan Cricket Board chief executive, is hoping to persuade the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to reconsider its stance against the proposed shake-up of Test cricket.

On September 6 and 7 in Dubai, the ICC will convene a special meeting to continue ongoing discussions that took place at its annual meeting in Edinburgh recently. Undoubtedly headlining the talks will be the proposed shakeup of Test cricket into a two-division league system, which would comprise seven teams in the top tier and five in the bottom. Currently, Test matches count toward the world rankings but there is no overall league structure.

Cricket chiefs in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa are supporting the proposal, believing a revamp would revitalise the Test format amid dwindling crowd numbers worldwide. But the cricket boards of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, most recently, India have been vocal of their opposition.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s stance remains unknown, while sources have told Cricbuzz that the West Indies are reluctant of the proposal. For a shake-up to ensue, seven of the ten Full Members on the ICC board need to support the proposal.

Anurag Thakur, BCCI president, told the New Indian Express recently that the “smaller countries will lose out” if Test cricket is revamped. “It is necessary to protect their interests”, he said.

Ranked in the top 10 in both One Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is), and the leading Associate nation along with Ireland, Afghanistan is set to benefit if the two-tier Test format is implemented.

Stanikzai said he hoped to have discussions with the BCCI at some stage before the ICC’s meeting. “It is disappointing, India’s stance, but it is totally their decision and we hope (the proposal) still gets passed,” he told Cricbuzz on Friday (August 26). “We haven’t had meetings with the BCCI but are hoping to soon, perhaps after the T20 series (between India against the West Indies in Florida). It (the Test revamp) is looking unlikely (to proceed) but we hope to have discussions with India and see what eventuates from there.”

Discussions in Edinburgh also revolved around ICC membership and whether membership should be scrapped altogether to achieve parity amongst the 105 cricket nations. It could also be a talking point in Dubai next month although sources have told Cricbuzz that changes in membership are “unlikely” in the near future.

Stanikzai said Afghanistan deserved full membership after becoming an Associates powerhouse. “We would be the most frustrated nation if we don’t get full membership,” he said. “Hopefully it happens soon because we are ready and we are playing better than some of the other (full member) countries.

“We can’t do much more on-and-off the field, so we deserve some recognition,” he added.

Regardless, Afghanistan could become a Test nation if they win the ICC Intercontinental Cup, which it narrowly leads over Ireland. The winner of the Cup will play the 10th-ranked Test nation (currently Zimbabwe) in a four-Test series in 2018 in a bid to become the 11th Test nation until 2022.

In March, Afghanistan will play Ireland in what shapes as essentially the final of the Cup in Noida, which has become their adopted home base as international teams still refuse to tour Afghanistan due to safety concerns. Last December, they moved from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Noida after signing a Memorandum of Understanding.

Stanikzai said Afghanistan were “happy” with their home base but other options could be explored in the future. “We are happy to be based in Noida as India is the home of cricket,” he said. “There are great facilities in Noida and it is such a big market, with vast media opportunities. The timeframe to be based there is not specific, so we are not sure about the longer-term.

“UAE and Malaysia, who we recently chatted to, could be options down the track.”

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