So, I’m quite happy to admit it – I am a cricket fanatic. I’ve loved the game since I was a small kid, and I’ve played and watched it ever since. And I’ve always been someone who will watch any game – from a village cricket match in England or a game between teenagers on the streets of Karachi to a Test Match at Lord’s. I love the game, and so I’m always fascinated to get a sense of the health of the sport from any match I watch. The U19s World Cup earlier this year was a great chance to do just this – and to see some of the young players who could one day be the next stars of this wonderful game. Here’s just a pick of a few of the very best players who caught the eye at the competition in New Zealand.
Lloyd Pope, Australia
I have to start with Lloyd Pope because he was just such a huge sensation at this year’s competition. One of the first reasons he stood out is purely superficial – his mop of flaming red hair that seems to have a life of its own as he runs in to bowl. But it is that bowling ability that has really made Pope one to watch, and a big prospect for the future. He’s a tricky leg spinner who is now the proud owner of the best figures for any bowler in World Cup history – a remarkable 8 for 35 that he picked up in the thrilling quarter final against the young England side. England only needed 128 to win that game, but Australia were dragged kicking and screaming to victory by Pope’s incredible performance as he bowled England out for the win. He even won praise from none other than Shane Warne himself – and has, I’d say, a bright future ahead of him.
Shubman Gill, India
Of course, India went on to eventually win the competition in New Zealand, defeating Australia in the final by 8 wickets. In that match young star Manjot Kalra picked up a century, but it is his teammate Shubman Gill, who won Player of the Tournament and who really caught my eye. Gill is a player who truly stepped up to the next level at this tournament and seized the opportunity to show off his talents with both hands. He scored a remarkable 372 runs in the Under-19 World Cup and of course was a fundamental part of that winning India team. He was rewarded for his efforts with the World Cup trophy, recognition as the best player at the tournament and a new contract with the Indian Premier League’s Kolkata Knight Riders. Not a bad start to 2018.
Shaheen Afridi, Pakistan
It seems we have yet another lethal looking Pakistan fast bowler on the way to hitting the big time – Shaheen Afridi is already looking a serious prospect and is my pick for another teenager with a huge career ahead of them. The Ireland team were left reeling by Afridi’s fantastic performance against them – the fast bowler destroyed the Irish attack with a remarkable six wickets for just a meagre 15 runs. He’s a left-armer, and super fast, and with figures like that (he picked up 12 wickets in all while in New Zealand) he’s certainly looking like he will be a big star for Pakistan one day. A hugely exciting prospect.
Of course, it’s always hard to say what will happen in the future, and predicting successful careers at such an early stage of any player’s development is always a perilous business. Injuries can happen, and life can get complex for these young players as they get older and meet fresh challenges in their careers. But from what I’ve seen of these three players – and also many of the other young stars who shone so brightly at the Under 19’s World Cup this year, the future of cricket is in very safe hands.