To represent one’s country in the World Cup is the ultimate aim of every cricketer, and a dream come true for an upcoming cricketer. Most teams prefer to go into cricket’s most prestigious event with tried and tested combinations, but sometimes teams do give young upcoming cricketers a taste of what it’s like at the tournament. Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson – all barely into their twenties at the time – were part of their respective teams at the 2011 World Cup and will play a key role in this one.
In this edition of the World Cup, the six youngest players are all under the age of 22 and are from Asia.
Mujeeb ur Rahman (18 years)
The youngest player at this World Cup, Afghanistan’s Mujeeb ur Rahman is one of the most exciting talents in world cricket. Born in Khost, Mujeeb taught himself the art of spin bowling from YouTube videos, perfecting the art at the farm-cum-academy of his uncle Noor Ali Zadran, one of Afghanistan’s earliest cricket players.
As a result of his unorthodox training, much about Mujeeb is unusual. Like the fact that he usually operates with the new ball. Captain Asghar Aghan used to throw the new ball to him in T20Is as well as ODIs, and new captain Gulbadin Naib seems to be following the same strategy. In Afghanistan’s warm-up match against Pakistan, it was Mujeeb who opened the bowling with Dawlat Zadran.
“We are not only participating in the upcoming World Cup, we will try and win the Cup. We are eyeing a semi-final spot (at least). I have bowled in England. I know how to bowl on those pitches,” Mujeeb told IANS about the upcoming tournament.
Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain (19 years)
Pakistan’s pace factory has two teenage pacers competing in this World Cup. Hailing from the country’s northern frontier, Shaheen Afridi, the 6’6” baby-faced left arm fast bowler is from Khyber Agency, a part of insurgency-troubled Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Hailing from Hyderabad in the south of the country is Mohammad Hasnain, who can consistently clock speeds above 150 kph.
Afridi has been around for a little longer than Hasnain. He came to the spotlight by breaking the record for the best bowling figures by a Pakistani in his first class debut in 2017 with figures of 8/39 for Research Laboratories. He was given his international debut in the Asia Cup last year. He has represented Pakistan in all three formats already, and seems to have the fitness and temperament of a long-term prospect.
Chief selector Inzamam ul Haq has described Hasnain as the “surprise package” in the team. Hasnain made his ODI debut in March this year and his best figures so far are 2/52 vs Australia. However, he comes with a lot of promise. Waqar Younis has said he sees shades of his youth in Hasnain. Shane Watson has said he has not seen anyone so young with so much pace and control.
“He could be the X-factor for us,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said.
Shadab Khan (20 years)
Shadab Khan is Pakistan’s prodigious leg spinner, who is more than capable of a few big hits in the lower order as well. He’s been on the international circuit for around two years now. Given that he can turn the ball a mile on pitches which offer assistance, uses the googly as a change-up weapon frequently and also manages to operate at a miserly economy rate, Shadab is now an integral part of the team.
The highest wicket-taker in the 2016 U-19 World Cup, Shadab has come a long way now, having pipped Yasir Shah to being Pakistan’s first-choice spinner. He was part of the victorious 2017 Champions Trophy team and will be looking to repeat that success.
“(Leg spin) will play a very important role. With batting (friendly) tracks, the par score will be 300. So, if you take wickets in the middle overs, you have a good chance to win games. Otherwise, they’ll score 350-plus,” Shadab told ANI about how he sees his role in the World Cup.
Rashid Khan (20 years)
In Rashid Khan, Afghanistan have a truly world-class cricketer. The 20-year-old has already established himself as one of the best bowlers in limited-overs cricket, regularly featuring on top of the bowlers’ and all-rounders’ rankings in ODIs as well as T20Is.
Despite his age, Rashid has the mind of an experienced campaigner when he has the ball in hand. Speaking about Rashid, Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons has said, “He has got the mind of a 30-year-old. He knows exactly what is expected of him.”
Rashid also enters the World Cup in superb form. In the recently concluded IPL season, he was one of only four bowlers to have bowled at an economy rate of less than 7 among those who picked more than 10 wickets. The three others were Imran Tahir, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja.
Avishka Fernando (21 years)
Sri Lanka have taken a gamble by choosing unheralded opener Avishka Fernando in their World Cup squad ahead of more experienced campaigners like Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella.
In choosing Fernando, the selectors prioritised promise over experience. The hard-hitting batsman, who is said to have fashioned his game after an illustrious alumnus from his college in Moratuwa – Romesh Kaluwitharana – has done nothing of note in an international jersey yet. His records in age-group cricket speak for themselves though.
On the back of a prodigious run of form for Sri Lanka U-19 in the 2015 season, Fernando was called up to the senior ODI side, even though he had not played any first-class cricket before that. His ODI debut, against Australia in August 2016, ended in a two-ball duck.
He did not get a look-in for more than two years after that, having made his comeback into the national team in March this year in the ODI series against Australia.
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