The game of 22-yards has this brilliant knack of taking care of every stratum of players. Be it the youngsters or the established talismans or the veterans in the twilight years of their cricketing career, the game provides everybody a chance to go and own the big stage with their individual performances. World Cup, being the biggest cricketing stage, has provided us with some of the biggest coming-of-age stories in its glorious 44-year history and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue that illustrious tradition in this year’s English World Cup.
Each of the ten teams participating in the mega-event is loaded with nascent stars raring to go out and light up the big stage with their performances. Ultimately, some will succeed while the others will go back to the grind of the basic process, only to come back stronger at a later date. Here, we have compiled a list of top-10 lesser-known players who are talented enough to make a big mark in the mega cricketing extravaganza.
Vijay Shankar (India)
From being ridiculed for his poor batting show in the Nidahas Trophy final to being selected as India’s No 4 batsman for the World Cup, Vijay Shankar’s fortunes have taken a 180° flip. His measured inning of 45 runs from 64 balls, when India had slipped to a precarious position of 18/4 in the fifth and final ODI of the New Zealand tour, exemplified his pressure soaking abilities as India went on to win the match after putting 252 runs on the board. He then struck a belligerent 43 off 28 balls to announce his hitting potential in the final T20I of the very same tour. Shankar played three eye-catching cameos in the subsequent ODI series against Australia at home. His form may have waned during the IPL but his 3-dimensional skill set of batting, bowling, and electric fielding makes him a player to watch out at the big stage in England.
Mosaddek Hossain (Bangladesh)
Once hailed as a teen prodigy in the annals of Bangladeshi Cricket, Hossain boasts of a batting average of almost 60 in the Bangladeshi first-class cricket. His ODI average of almost 34 from 22 innings is also decent enough for his lower-order batting position. The 23-year old batting all-rounder has the ability to switch through the batting gears as and when required during the game. It was this ability to think-on-the-go which led the senior Bangladeshi batsman Tamim Iqbal to once say that Hossain "thinks like a 45-year old.''
Most recently, he made the world sit up and notice his talent when he smashed five sixes and two fours during his 24-ball 52-run innings which helped Bangladesh clinch the rain-curtailed tri-series final against West Indies. His handy off-spin, along with his decent batting credentials, will add to the Bangladeshi firepower, especially in the lower-order batting, in the upcoming World Cup.
Hazratullah Zazai (Afghanistan)
With a T20 batting average in excess of 75 along with a fearsome strike-rate of 192.8 in the shortest format, the 21-year-old explosive batsman from Afghanistan has already earned the nickname of ‘Afghanistani Gayle’. Last year during the Afghanistan Premier League, he became only the sixth batsman in the world to achieve the rare feat of hitting six sixes in an over. The self-taught video-pupil carried on his impressive run in the T20I series against Ireland earlier this year where he smashed a breath-taking 162 off just 62 balls to power Afghanistan to a world-record T20 total of 278/3. He currently has only one fifty in his ODI kitty but with the hitting prowess he possesses, it’s just a matter of time when that tally gets some further additions.
Aftab Alam (Afghanistan)
A sensational U-19 World Cup resulting in a fast-tracked ODI debut in 2010, it all happened far too quickly for a 17-year-old teenage paceman named Aftab Alam. Unfortunately, Aftab couldn’t keep up his good work at the highest level which resulted in him being consistently shuffled in and out of the national squad. He could only feature in just 12 ODI games in the period from his debut until the start of May last year when his seemingly fledgling career took a turn for better. Since May last year, Aftab’s consistent good work has resulted in him securing the coveted spot in Afghanistan’s 15-member squad for the World Cup 2019. With 15 wickets from 9 ODI games, at an average of 21.93 and an economy of 4.47 runs per over, Aftab has emerged as the leader of the Afghan pace attack in the past 12 months. If Afghanistan are to do well in their World Cup sojourn in England, they need their pace bowlers to step up to complement the efforts of Rashid Khan & Co. and Aftab serves as a perfect example to follow for the rest of the pacemen.
Henry Nicholls (New Zealand)
Third highest run-scorer for New Zealand in the past 12 months and fifth highest since the last World Cup, Nicholls has established himself as a vital cog in the Kiwi middle-order. The southpaw’s solid presence in the line-up makes the New Zealand middle-order, comprising of Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and Nicholls, the most settled middle-order among the teams going to battle it out in the marquee event in England. With eight fifties and a lone ton to his name for an average of almost 35.5 in the ODI circuit, he will be raring to make important additions in these tallies during the Blackcaps’ World Cup campaign.
Rassie van der Dussen (South Africa)
With an ODI batting average of 88.25 from 8 innings, the highest among all the South African batsmen to have batted in at least 5 ODI innings in last 12 months, Van der Dussen will head into the World Cup as South Africa’s first-choice No 4 batsman. His current ODI strike-rate, which lingers around the 75-mark, may give an impression of him being a slow run-scorer but his T20 strike-rate of 133-plus is enough to allay these fears. He has so far displayed remarkable composure and maturity in his batting approach which is why he has been selected to fill in the big void left behind by the retirement of the ‘Superman’ AB de Villiers.
Alex Carey (Australia)
The elegant Southpaw has been included as the specialist wicket-keeper in the Australian World Cup Contingent. Besides his glovework, his primary role is to provide lusty finishing touches to the solid foundations laid upfront by his top and middle-order colleagues. He broke on the international cricketing scene with a scintillating Big Bash Season in 2017-18 where he finished second in the batting charts with 443 runs from just 11 innings. That performance catapulted Carey into the national squad as a wicket-keeping batsman. Though he had mostly batted in the top order before his national team call-up, Carey has now settled nicely into his finisher’s role with his recent half-century (55 of 67 balls) in the 4th ODI against Pakistan being a perfect example when he, along with Glenn Maxwell, bailed Australia out from a precarious position of 140/5 to a match-winning score of 277. With him ticking all the right boxes before the mega event, Australia will be more hopeful than ever of a solid backend finish from the South Australian.
Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka)
Karunaratne’s inclusion in the Sri Lankan World Cup squad was, no doubt, the biggest surprise call from the World Cup squad announcements made by various nations taking part in the mega-event. He is a very proficient batsman in the Test arena but his last ODI appearance came way back in March 2015 against England. He is now a much-improved batsman since his last ODI appearance, a fact vindicated by him getting the leadership roles of the Test team in the recent test series win against South Africa. Not only has he got a berth in the World Cup squad but has also been named as the captain of the unit which will surely inspire him to lead by example on the English soil.
Oshane Thomas (West Indies)
Thomas hogged the limelight when he finished the last edition of the Caribbean Premier League as the highest wicket-taking pacer with 18 scalps from 10 games. His good height and the ability to bowl regularly in high 140s, coupled with the jump that he takes while delivering the ball, can trouble even the best of the batsmen in the world – a fact well-acknowledged by Rohit Sharma when Thomas made his ODI and T20 debut against India in India last year. The 22-year-old pacer from Jamaica has so far taken 15 wickets from eight ODI innings and was particularly impressive in the recent ODI series against England where he took 9 wickets from four games. West Indies will be hoping for an even better show from him at the World Cup which will be a huge boost to their bid of having an impactful World Cup campaign.
Shaheen Afridi (Pakistan)
The 19-year-old youngster made his ODI debut in an Asia Cup clash against Afghanistan last September. He has, since, taken rapid strides in the international bowling arena and now holds the distinction of being the best Pakistani bowler in the past 12 months on the bowling average front. His 19 ODI wickets from just 10 games have come at an impressive economy of 4.78 runs per over. Pakistan will be banking upon Afridi’s left-arm pace to make early inroads in the opposition line-ups as they embark upon their bid to capture their second World Cup trophy since the Imran Khan-led Pakistani team’s miraculous feat in 1992.