London: Ireland and Afghanistan were on Thursday awarded Test status by the International Cricket Council, thereby expanding the number of elite level nations for the first time in 17 years.
Both nations were confirmed as 'Full Members' of the ICC after a unanimous vote at the ICC Full Council meeting at the Oval.
Test status has been granted following a Membership Committee recommendation that both countries' applications met the newly approved membership criteria and should be put forward for approval.
As a result of the move, the number of countries eligible for playing Test cricket has now gone up to 12 from 10. The last country to have been given this status was Bangladesh way back in the year 2000.
Test cricket is widely regarded as the sport's top format, despite its waning popularity over the years due to the rise of shorter and more attractive formats.
Ireland have established themselves on the international scene during the course of several World Cups, recording wins over Pakistan, the West Indies and England.
Afghanistan's progress has been even more rapid, with many Afghans' first contact with cricket taking place during the 1980s and 1990s, as refugees fled to Pakistan to escape the Soviet invasion.
Speaking about the development ICC Chief Executive David Richardson said: "I'd like to congratulate Afghanistan and Ireland on their Full Membership status which is the result of their dedication to improving performance both off and on the field resulting in the significant development and growth of cricket in their respective countries. Both have clearly demonstrated they meet the new criteria and as such have made the progression to Full Membership."
Afghanistan and Ireland have now joined an exclusive club that also includes founder members Australia and England, who played the first Test match at Melbourne in 1877, South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
Ireland international Gary Wilson welcomed the news with a statement on his own Twitter feed, saying: "An historic day for Irish cricket.
"Years worth of work feels like it has been recognised. There are many people in the background that have made this happen. Current officials, players and management have been major cogs but let's not forget the tireless volunteers who worked so many years to get us where we are.
"Men who played for free and managed for free...As well as for us, this is for them."
Thrilled at receiving this massive opportunity, Afghanistan Cricket Board Chief Executive Shafiq Stanikzai said: "For a nation like Afghanistan it is a huge and remarkable achievement, the entire nation will be celebrating across all five regions and different provinces, it is the perfect Eid gift. Everyone has waited for this news and has been so keen to hear this news. Afghanistan Cricket has gone from strength to strength and we dared to dream that this would happen and today it has become a reality.
"I would like to thank the ICC and the Board who have demonstrated today that they are committed to growing the global game and rewarding nations who are performing on and off the field. As an administrator every achievement is huge and it opens the doors to new challenges and we need to work hard to maintain and sustain our development at the top of the cricket world."