Some of the greatest current cricketers - Kane Williamson, Steven Smith, Babar Azam, Ben Stokes, Kagiso Rabada and Virat Kohli, to name a few - had at least one identical stop on their way to the top: the Under-19 World Cup. Every edition of the tournament gives us a new crop of future stars. Here's an XI that might be well worth keeping an eye on when the 2022 edition gets underway.
Harnoor Singh (India)
Harnoor, who hails from a family of cricketers, caught the attention after hitting three centuries in the age-group Challenger Trophy last year. After making it to the Under-19 side in November, the runs have continued to flow. The tall left-handed opener scored 72 and 111 in games against Bangladesh Under-19 before following it up with 120, 46 and 65 in the Under-19 Asia Cup against UAE, Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively. After arriving in the Caribbean, he struck a century against Australia in a warm-up game. He could well be to the Indian team in 2022 what Yashasvi Jaiswal was to them in 2020.
Qasim Akram (Pakistan)
In terms of senior cricket, Qasim, the Pakistan captain, could be this tournament's most experienced player. In 15 List A games, the batter has an average of 51 and a strike rate of more than 100. In 21 T20s, the strike rate is 152.04. Qasim, who was a part of the last World Cup too, has also played nine first-class matches, averaging 35.36. On the way to his maiden senior century, in a Pakistan Cup one-day game for Central Punjab against Balochistan a year ago, Qasim displayed the ability to play shots all around the wicket. Just two months ago, his skills as a finisher took Central Punjab to the National T20 Cup final and he has been an emerging player with Karachi Kings in the PSL. Qasim enters the competition on the back of some offspin-bowling form as well.
Dewald Brevis (South Africa)
Brevis, the right-handed batter, is thought of as the next AB de Villiers in South Africa, and that's because of his aggressive batting, which includes walking around the crease to put off bowlers' plans. He uses his strength to clear boundaries almost at will, and has looked comfortable facing spin too. Coming into the World Cup, he has added another skill to his repertoire - bowling legbreak. Last month, Brevis took ten wickets in three youth one-dayers against West Indies, away in the Caribbean, where this World Cup is being played. Unfortunately, his batting form was well below par, though he has since hit a 70-ball 50 against the same opponents in a World Cup warm-up game.
Cooper Connolly (Australia)
The former Western Australia Under-17 captain returns for his second Under-19 World Cup, this time as captain. The last time, Connolly finished the tournament with a 64 against West Indies in the fifth-place playoff, and seems to have embraced the added responsibility already with an innings of 117 against India in Australia's first warm-up game ahead of the latest competition. Connolly is an allrounder, a left-hand batter with solid technique, who is as comfortable playing orthodox shots as he is being a bit innovative, and he also plays a holding role with his left-arm spin. Before the World Cup, Connolly was also a part of the Perth Scorchers squad in the BBL.
Nivethan Radhakrishnan (Australia)
Nivethan is the only known male ambidextrous spinner in Australian cricket, and has a rookie contract with Tasmania too. He has bowled to top batters, not just in Australia, over the years, turning out as a net bowler in the Tamil Nadu Premier League for two seasons and once under Ricky Ponting's watch for Delhi Capitals in the IPL. He has batted at various positions - at the top, in the middle, right at the end - in representative cricket too, and while it hasn't been asked for of late, Nivethan can bowl seam-up as well.
Faisal Akram (Pakistan)
A rare left-arm wristspinner from Pakistan, Faisal has developed his bowling style looking at Australia's Brag Hogg. He has spent considerable time in the PSL with Multan Sultans under the tutelage of Mushtaq Ahmed and Shahid Afridi, and when the senior men's team was preparing to play South Africa last year, Faisal was enlisted to help the batters prepare to face Tabraiz Shamsi. Not too long ago, Faisal picked 27 wickets in only ten games in the 2020-21 National Under-19 One-Day Cup.
Rakibul Hasan (Bangladesh)
You may remember him as the man who hit the winning runs to seal Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup win in 2020 - Rakibul is back, and as captain this time, of a team looking to defend their first and only ICC title. He idolises Yuvraj Singh, and Rakibul has similar skills. As a left-arm fingerspinner, he is accurate, and as a batter, he provides cushion in the lower-middle order. He had a bowling average of 10.16 in the last World Cup, and the West Indian pitches could work well for him.
Matheesha Pathirana (Sri Lanka)
With a slingy side-on action, fast bowler Pathirana is, obviously, called "Junior Lasith Malinga" in Sri Lankan cricket circles. He is tall, gets the ball to swing, and though neither he nor Sri Lanka did well at the 2020 edition, he is much more experienced now. Since 2020, he has been a part of Chennai Super Kings in the IPL as one of their reserve players - in IPL 2021 - and now comes into his second World Cup physically stronger too.
Johann Layne (West Indies)
During West Indies' preparations for their home World Cup, Layne emerged as the new-ball frontman for the team in series against England and South Africa, and has 15 wickets in his last nine games including three against India in the first warm-up game. Additionally, Layne is a floater in the batting line-up, his penchant for big hits used by the management to promote him in the order whenever West Indies have needed to up the scoring rate.
Tim Tector (Ireland)
The third Tector brother (after Jack and Harry) to captain Ireland at the Under-19 World Cup, Tim bats in the middle-order and comes into the competition with some form under his belt, including scores of 94 and 53 against Zimbabwe in a series before the World Cup.
Ravi Kumar (India)
Ravi, the left-arm seamer, is a genuine swing bowler, typically getting ball to move away from the left-handers. Unlike the last crop of India Under-19 bowlers who relied on pace to trouble batters, Ravi's success has been based mainly on control and seam position. Ravi is also the bowler who keeps things tight for India, even as the others play wicket-taking roles. As for form, he took 4 for 34 against Australia in a World Cup warm-up game the other day.