Cricket’s future is often a subject that invites too much debate. In my humble opinion, unnecessarily so. The general laws of evolution apply here as well as everywhere: that which adapts always survives.
Cricket has exhibited this much-needed quality in the recent past. T20 Premier leagues, day-night Test-matches, Test Championships are just some of the structural innovations that have either established themselves or are in the pipeline.
2013 was a significant success for both the existing formats of the game as the so-called ‘lame-duck’ ODI tournament that was the Champions Trophy came to life and the world tuned into the Ashes to see the world’s oldest rivalry being reignited. Cricket has a secure future even though expansion may yet take a fair bit of time.
However, the most important aspect of the game remains the protagonists of the game. As long as there will be an accomplished skillful batsman on the crease, a ferocious blood-thirsty bowler at his run-up and a spinner full of guile in the game, we can be confident of a secure future for the game.
Some of the established greats of the game took their leave from the game in recent years. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis leave a void that can only be partially filled. However, greater emphasis on the U-19 format, domestic competitions has ensured that we already have a class of players entering the game that promise to be tomorrow’s big performers.
The criteria for selection has been only to look at players born after 1st January 1990 which would make them less than 24 years of age at this point of time.
Moreover, we are looking at players who have already gained some slight experience at the International stage in one or more of the existing formats which rules out some excellent yet untried talent such as Unmukt Chand (India), Nic Maddison (Australia), Lizaad Williams (South Africa) or Reece Topley (England).
I have also tried to be as representative as possible picking players from as many nations as possible. Here is a list of 10 young players who are beginning to make a mark in International cricket.
10. Jason Holder – West Indies
West Indies is one team which is most in need of up and coming world-class talent. There is endless reminiscing that goes on in cricketing circles about the by-gone days of West Indian domination – the 70′s and the 80′s – when the likes of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Sobers were the best that the game produced.
Even after that period of extended sway, West Indies continued to produce world-class quality pace-bowlers in Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. West Indies is producing bit-and-part players at this moment. They are very valuable and exciting in the shorter format of the game with their extreme athleticism, all-round abilities but they haven’t been able to produce a Virat Kohli or a Morne Morkel which is troubling.
Jason Holder is not in the league of Ambrose and Walsh in terms of promise but he has the skills to become a competent bowler for the West Indies. They also have Kemar Roach in their ranks in whose footsteps Holder followed. Holder has a lot less pace but his height and accuracy allow him to be at the batsman constantly. He can extract swing with the new ball and shackle the batsman to create effective pressure at one end.
He was West Indies’ highest wicket taker at the U-19 world cup played in New Zealand finishing with 13 wickets. He has made a steady entry into International cricket with admirable performances against Pakistan and India in the recent past. He has scalped 22 wickets in 15 ODI’s so far with a best of 4/13 recorded against Pakistan. Hopefully, he will add to his game and develop into the fast bowler that West Indies need.
9. James Pattinson – Australia
The right-arm fast bowler pips compatriot Mitchell Starc to gain a position in our list. Both the bowlers are supremely talented and will constitute Australia’s near future.
They had a rough rite of passage in England when they lost the Ashes earlier in 2013 leaving the old guard of Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson to exact revenge in home conditions. They need to remain patient at this point in time and realize that they will have their moment in the sun.
Pattinson trumps Starc because he matches his pace with added qualities of extracting late swing. His stock delivery is the out-swinger which when delivered from his height, at a considerable pace is incredibly difficult to handle for any batsman.
Pattinson enjoyed notable success at the beginning of his fledgling career against the Kiwis in 2011 picking up 14 wickets in 2 Test matches. His career Test figures look impressive in spite of a lack-lustre Ashes trip as he has 47 wickets to his name in 12 Test matches.
He has already gained some valuable experience by plying his trade in the hostile atmosphere of the Ashes, and on the dry unresponsive surfaces of India.
8. Quinton de Kock – South Africa
South Africa have been able to produce quality wicket-keeper batsmen in recent memory. Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers were more than competent with both the willow and the gloves. De Villiers is on his way to becoming one of the modern day greats of the game and De Kock would like to follow his example.
The diminutive 21-year-old is athletic and neat behind the stumps and has already gathered a good deal of experience at the highest stage. He is a part of the Indian Premier League extravaganza, and made a substantial claim for his batting skills as an opener against India in the recently concluded series in which he slammed three consecutive centuries only to eventually give way to Graeme Smith for the Test series. He averages 46.31 in 16 ODIs and will definitely have a bright future with the Proteas.
7. Ben Stokes – England
England have been in desperate need of a quality all-rounder ever since the exit of Andrew Flintoff; this desperation was perhaps disguised by their romp of the Aussies earlier in 2013 but it was fatally exposed during the return trip.
Stokes was perhaps the only positive to emerge for England on a tour for which adjectives such as ‘disastrous’, ‘catastrophic’ seem exceptionally mild. The rarity of a fast-bowler all-rounder is well known and that makes Stokes all the more valuable. Stokes lifted some doom for England at Perth with a mature yet scintillating knock of 120 and backed that up with a 6-wicket haul at Sydney.
He has continued his good run of form in the coloured shirt making a match winning contribution with 70 runs and 4/38 in the 4th ODI against Australia. He will be a massive asset for England if he can keep his composure going ahead.
6. Joe Root – England
Joe Root made a very promising start to his career, making impressive contributions to England’s historic series victory in India. He looked at equal ease against spin and pace bowling and continued his great run of form in the home Ashes series against Australia.
He adds much needed meat and steel to the English batting line-up which is much too often reliant upon the composure and consistency of captain Alastair Cook. He is an orthodox, traditional looking player in many aspects who likes to take his time on the crease and allows himself to cash in later on in the match.
He drives with elan but as the bowlers take a good stock of his game, his weaknesses are bound to be exposed as they were in the return Ashes series where he failed to make any significant contribution. These trials by fire can either put down a player or reveal their redemptive character.
The next year or so will be critical in the development of Joe Root. He averages just over 36.00 in 15 Test matches with 2 hundreds to his name.
5. Kane Williamson – New Zealand
New Zealand have appeared on the International stage with a refreshed and rejuvenated look in the last six months. They boast of a good mix of youth and experience, a balance of bat and ball and given the fact that they will be playing the 2015 World Cup on home soil one would not be off the mark dubbing them the dark horses for the tournament.
The likes of Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill are guiding a group of exceptionally gifted young talent two of whom will find a place on this list.
Kane Williamson already has over 3000 International runs to his name at age 23 which is a substantial statement of his talents. Batting at the crucial no. 3 position, the right-handed batsman has the ability to play in different gears. He has exhibited the same degree of composure in the shorter and longer versions of the game.
He averages just under 37 in ODIs with 3 tons and 9 half-centuries to his name. The outstanding performance of his career so far came against South Africa where he smashed 145 not out against what is arguably the most strongest bowling attack in the world.
He scored three consecutive half-centuries in first 3 ODIs against India to begin 2014 in red hot form. With 4 centuries and 12 half-centuries in the Test format, he is one of the exceptional young talents in the game who already have a foothold in both major arenas of the game.
4. Mohammed Shami – India
India has managed to produce the most exciting young talent when it comes to the batting department with the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma now maturing into experienced campaigners.
However, the real trouble has been boiling over in the bowling department where pace has always been a problem. Shami has excited the cricketing world with his recent performances againt South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand.
The right-arm pace bowler can bowl consistently over 140 kph which is an achievement in itself for Indian bowlers but he adds to that with his precise accuracy and stump-line bowling. He is always looking to bring the bowled and lbw dismissals into play relying on hitting the seam more than extracting swing with the new ball.
He becomes an even more dangerous commodity with the older ball in Test cricket when he produces prodigious late reverse swing that rattled the West Indies during Tendulkar’s retirement series. India will be hoping that he doesn’t fizzle out in the manner of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
3. Ahmed Shehzad - Pakistan
Pakistan have suffered a good deal due to non-cricketing reasons in the past as they still remain exiled from home territory. Their cricketing troubles in the recent past have been concerned with pathetic batting performances.
Misbah-ul-Haq is a consistent player but his performances in the shorter format can often be frustrating. This problem was made evident in 2013 when Pakistan failed to muster 200 runs in any of their 3 group matches in the Champions Trophy. They were brought to their knees by a weak West Indian side as the likes of Md. Hafeez, Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi failed repeatedly with the willow.
Ahmed Shehzad has emerged as a potential cure for these troubles. He has showed a great deal of mettle, a desire and willingness to battle it out in tough conditions that always goes a long way in the creation of an international cricketer.
This is exemplified in the fact that he has scored his runs in alien conditions of New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa where he grabbed a ton each. He announced himself in the Test arena with a convincing knock of 147 at Sharjah against Sri Lanka.
He will get enough time to improve upon his batting average of 33.00 aggregated in 40 ODI’s but consistency will be the measure of his development given that most Pakistan batsman fail on that standard.
2. James Faulkner – Australia
You would perhaps forget that James Faulkner is still only 23 years of age given the fact that he has been in the eye of cricket world for a fair period of time. He has starred for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, made a big impact for Australia in the shorter format of the game with his economical bowling and late batting blitz and is knocking on the doors of the Test side.
Sometimes skills are secondary when a player has overwhelming passion and hunger to win and that seems to be the case with Faulkner. He reminds one of the Australian greats of the 90s: the likes of Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne, Glenn Mcgrath who were ferocious in their approach to the game.
Faulkner is a player of limited capabilities but he makes it up with his all-round play, never say die attitude and cricketing intelligence. He is an excellent death bowler who can get the yorkers in and bowl the slower varieties to great effect. His claim to fame however has been some splendid knocks lower down the order against India and England that allowed Australia to steal victory from the clutches of defeat.
He has the potential to become a proper all-rounder and an integral part of Australia’s 2015 World Cup plans.
1. Corey Anderson – New Zealand
Anderson has grabbed all the eyeballs by breaking Shahid Afridi’s long standing record of the fastest ton in ODIs. The left-handed batsman seems to be in a hurry when he makes his runs and there is a great deal of method to his madness.
We have too many lower order batsmen who do not put a price on their wicket and slog away to their own death. Anderson however seems to put the bowling side under such immense pressure with his clean hitting that the bowlers are forced to make mistakes readjusting their line and lengths.
Anderson is more than a handful as a bowler too and can give his captain the full quota of overs. His career stats at this nascent stage cannot reveal the impact that he has made on the cricketing world at such short notice. The individual performances that he has given against India and West Indies give a better indication of his capabilities.
He picked a five-wicket haul in the recently concluded tied match against India and that whirlwind knock of 131 not out against the West Indies will loom large in memory for a long time to come. He gives New Zealand a lot more than just batting and bowling options; his spurts of energy with bat and ball can change the attitude of a team that has always under-achieved at the highest stage.