Cricket’s rich history is dotted with legends who have left a lasting legacy on the sport. Through their performances with the bat, ball or both in several cases, these players have risen head and shoulders above their contemporaries to achieve greatness.
For some like Sir Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, the talent was undeniable from the moment they stepped on to the cricket field as a rookie. Meanwhile, others such as James Anderson, Virat Kohli and Younis Khan have honed their skills over the years to ultimately transform into extraordinary players.
Many youngsters, meanwhile, have promised plenty in their fledgling stages before fading into obscurity or mediocrity. As such, it is never easy to predict the career trajectory of young players entering the game, no matter how talented they might be.
While there is no telling where their careers will ultimately lead, there is nothing more exciting than watching fresh talents announcing their arrival in cricket.
In this series, we take a look at some of the most exciting cricketers around the world who are aged 23 or below.
Afghanistan’s rise in cricket has been nothing short of meteoric, with the war-ravaged nation now firmly established as a full Test playing member of the ICC. One of the most encouraging aspects of Afghanistan’s rise has been their excellent youth development programme.
The fact that their biggest superstar and skipper – Rashid Khan – is only 21, embodies the massive promise that lies in their youth system.
The Afghans have been making all the right noises of late in various junior age-groups tournaments, and the signs for the future of the senior team are encouraging to say the least.
Here, we look at three of their most promising starlets.
MUJEEB UR RAHMAN
Role: Right-armed spinner
Strengths: Subtle variations and mystery
Similar to: Ajantha Mendis
Still only 18, Mujeeb ur Rahman is no stranger to international cricket anymore with as many as 40 ODIs and 19 T20Is under his belt. As a mystery spinner, Mujeeb has all the variations to stifle batsmen at the crease, and his numbers in limited-overs cricket so far back up his prowess.
In ODI cricket, the teenager has claimed 63 wickets at an average of 22.44, along with a sensational economy-rate of only 3.94. In T20Is, Mujeeb has clinched 25 wickets at an average of 17.72 while his economy-rate is a miserly 6.15.
Although off-spin is his stock delivery, the Afghanistan youngster can also bowl leg-spin with pretty much the same bowling action. His ability to spin the ball both ways, along with a lethal straighter delivery, means that batsmen are always second guessing when facing up to him.
Ever since he impressed for Afghanistan in the U19 World Cup and Asia Cup, Mujeeb has been highly in demand in franchise T20 leagues including the IPL, BBL and the T20 Blast.
While he has earned a solitary Test cap for Afghanistan, the spinner’s skillset is best suited to the shorter formats of the game. His cricketing career is still at its infant stages, and the spinner should only get better in the coming years. Retaining the mystery with the ball, however, will be Mujeeb’s main challenge.
Role: Right-handed batsman
Strengths: Compact technique and patience
Similar to: Rahmat Shah
At 18, Ibrahim Zadran is already a veteran of two U19 World Cup campaigns for Afghanistan with the latest of them coming in South Africa this year.
The right-handed batsman was in fine fettle in the most recent U19 World Cup edition, where he registered three half-centuries including a fine 87 against the UAE.
The top-order batsman possesses a compact batting technique and his ability has seen him rewarded with two Test appearances for the Afghanistan.
On his Test debut against Bangladesh in September last year, Zadran registered a superb 87 in the second innings in Chattogram to script a famous win.
Although he can bowl some handy part-time medium pace, Zadran’s most valuable asset is his batting. A solid and resourceful batsman at the crease, he seems to have a bright future ahead of him in the longer formats of the game.
He is averaging a healthy 39.50 after 16 first-class appearances and has also managed to register two centuries. With Afghanistan sorely lacking batsmen with the right temperament for Test cricket, Zadran’s emergence could not have come at a better time.
Role: Left-armed leg-spinner
Strengths: Sharp turn and excellent googly
Similar to: Kuldeep Yadav
With Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman giving Afghanistan’s spin contingent a formidable look, Zahir Khan fits in nicely with his left-armed variation.
Left-arm wrist-spin is always a rarity in cricket, and the 21-year-old brings that unique skillset to the table for Afghanistan’s attack.
While he has impressed previously at U19 level, Zahir Khan is relative newcomer to senior cricket with a solitary ODI and two Test appearances so far.
Like Zadran, the youngster played a key role in Afghanistan’s historic Test triumph against Bangladesh last year with three scalps in the second innings in Chattogram.
While he can generate sharp turn with his leg-spin, Zahir is also armed with a deceptive googly which goes away from the right-hander. He has already gained plenty of experience in franchise T20 leagues around the world with stints in the Caribbean Premier League, IPL, BBL, PSL, BBL and the T20 Blast.
He has also had a taste of first-class county cricket after turning out for Lancashire in the 2018 season. With some experience, Khan could develop into a world beater and it will be interesting to see how his development unfolds.