DEHRADUN, India: Afghanistan claimed their first ever victory in Test cricket Monday, beating fellow newcomers Ireland in what captain Asghar Afghan hailed as a historic day for the war-torn country.
Afghanistan and Ireland both achieved full member status of the International Cricket Council in 2017, becoming only the 11th and 12th teams to play the long format of the sport beloved of purists. Rahmat Shah and Ihsanullah Janat scored fifties as Afghanistan chased down 147 to beat Ireland by seven wickets on day four of the one-off game in the north Indian city of Dehradun.
“It’s a historic day for Afghanistan, for our team and our people,” Afghan said. “We have been playing for a while, we have been playing first-class cricket, so we have that composure. The bowlers were very good, Rashid (Khan), Yamin (Ahmadzai),” he added.
Afghanistan were steered to their target by a 139-run partnership between Shah, who made 76, and debutant Janat, who hit an unbeaten 65. Shah, a top-order batsman, registered his second fifty of the match after making 98 in Afghanistan’s first innings score of 314.
With three needed to win, Afghanistan lost Shah and then Mohammad Nabi in successive deliveries before Hashmatullah Shahidi came to the crease and hit the winning boundary. “I want to congratulate all the lads in the team, they have been absolutely brilliant,” said Afghan. “We have got a few games before the World Cup and we want to make every opportunity count,” the captain added.
Cricket has become the national sport of Afghanistan, torn apart by decades of war, with many of the Afghan players cutting their cricketing teeth in refugee camps in Pakistan. The country gained one-day international status in 2009 and have qualified for their second 50-over World Cup in England and Wales, due to begin on May 30. They have also been part of four Twenty20 World Cups.
They have made India their base since 2015, far away from the guns and bombs of their home country. Last year they made the leap to Test cricket, taking on India in Bangalore, but were thrashed inside two days. Khan, the Indian Premier League (IPL) sensation who is second in the ICC one-day international rankings, played a key role in the Ireland game, taking five wickets on Sunday as Ireland were dismissed for 288.
Khan returned career-best figures of five for 82 with his leg-spin to stall Ireland’s resurgence after Andy Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien had hit gritty half-centuries in their second innings. Balbirnie made 82 and O’Brien 56 before a 10th-wicket 58-run partnership between James Cameron-Dow and Tim Murtagh set up the potentially tricky chase for the Afghans.
It was Ireland’s second Test too. They played their debut Test against Pakistan in Dublin last year, losing by five wickets. For Ireland, Tim Murtagh stood out with scores of 54 not out and 27 batting at number 11.
“It’s been a long tour, but the lads have been very good. You are never tired to play Test cricket, it’s always a special feeling,” said Ireland captain William Porterfield. Ireland lost the two Twenty20 matches at the start of the series between the two minnows and then levelled the one-day internationals at 2-2.
Veteran all-rounder Mohammad Nabi said Afghanistan has world-class spinners and is capable of beating any Test side in the world if their batting clicks.
Australia won their debut Test in 1877 and England and Pakistan won in their second Test outing. “It’s a very historic day for whole of Afghanistan. Especially for those guys who bring cricket from zero to the Test cricket. We played two games and we won one,” Nabi told reporters.
“When you win then teams will tell you to come and play with them. Nobody plays a weak team. They might think that Afghanistan is weak but not so much that we can’t fight them. We have the world’s best spinners and we try to concentrate on our batting line-up. If we can put up a good score on board then we are confident of beating any team in the world,” he added with a smile.