India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration of hydro power and infrastructure projects in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in Jammu

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday he hoped a historic cricket match between India and Afghanistan would strengthen ties between the South Asian neighbors and allies in the fight against militancy in the region.

Afghanistan started its maiden five-day test match in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on Thursday, with the match attended by top government officials from both sides.

“I congratulate the people of Afghanistan as their cricket team plays their first international test match. Glad that they have chosen to play the historic match with India. Best wishes to both teams!” Modi said on Twitter. “May sports continue to bring our people closer and strengthen ties.”

India’s sports minister, Rajyavardhan Rathore, shook hands with Afghan players before the match and read out a congratulatory statement from Modi.

Awarded full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) alongside Ireland in June last year, Afghanistan became the 12th test-playing nation after first being recognized by the ICC in 2001. India is the world’s top-ranked test side.

Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai was presented with a memento from former India all-rounder Salim Durani, who was born in Kabul, before the match began.

India has already offered war-ravaged Afghanistan two stadiums in the country to host matches with other nations.

New Delhi enjoys close relations with Afghanistan and both accuse common neighbor Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Islamist militants operating on its territory.

“The historic friendship and relations between India and Afghanistan go back to centuries. I’m glad that cricket is now added as another layer,” Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Atif Mashal said in January, when the date and venue of the match were announced.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by Paul Tait)

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