Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakarra has predicted that the players at the end of their careers – Jayasuriya, Tendulkar and Lara in particular – will be the most dangerous at the World Cup. I have a hunch that he is quite wrong and that it will be the younger, up-and-coming players that will shine in the West Indies.
Several teams are carrying ageing players, many with gradually decreasing reputations and it would be fantastic to see one of the old greats go out in glory. However, the World Cup has never struck me as a tournament that particularly brings out the best in old players. I also think that the intensity at which one-day cricket is played at the moment rather favours younger players. And wouldn't be just as exciting to have a new player announce himself to the world through an amazing Cup performance.
So in the grand blogging tradition, I have compiled a top ten list (in no particular order) of young players to watch at this World Cup.
1. Our own Ross Taylor
After much anticipation and a tease of an appearance last season, we finally got to see what he can do. Already this season he has hit two 100s and two 50s. If he takes this form into the World Cup he could well be the player of the tournament.
2. Kieran Pollard – West Indies
A true youngster, only 19 years old and made his first class debut for Trinidad and Tobago last year, opening his account with a century. Some huge twenty20 hitting has also impressed.
3. Kevin Peterson – England
A predictable choice but he really must be on the list. A simply devastating batsman and getting better. He is my greatest fear for the Black Caps' chances of progressing through the Super 8s. We really need to get the points in the game against England, but Peterson should eat our mid-innings bowlers for lunch.
4. Jeetan Patel – Black Caps
While Patel's 25 ODI wickets have so far come at only a decent average and economy rate, look for him bowling in tandem with Vettori. The stats are a bit out of date (two 300+ scores by Australia have damaged his record somewhat), but this article shows that Patel plays out of his skin when Vettori is tying the batsmen down.
5. Mahendra Dhoni – India
Where did this guy come from? The wicketkeeper from Jharkhand is rated as the no. 2 batsman in the world. He's played a mere three games against New Zealand for an average of 25, so I can see why I missed him.
6. Umar Gul – Pakistan
With Akhtar and Asif looking likely to miss the whole of the Cup, there is a real opportunity for some of Pakistan's other pace prospects to shine. Umar Gul has been in Asif's shadow somewhat, but he actually appears to offer more problems for batsmen with good movement, accuracy and bounce.
7. Shahriar Nafees – Bangladesh
Pretty much anyone from Bangladesh will be an unknown and we may not get to see Nafees play New Zealand. This could be a bit of a break-out year for Bangladesh, as they aren't looking too bad. However, with Sri Lanka and India in their pool, it is hard to see them progressing. Still, if any of the young guns in Bangladesh can perform a miracle, it would be Nafees.
8. Lasith Malinga – Sri Lanka
Malinga had the Black Caps skipping all over the place in avoiding his rocket Yorkers this season, showing again what a dangerous bowler he is. The non-Subcontinental teams just haven't sorted him out. While the pitches in the West Indies reportedly won't favour pace, Malinga's most devastating deliveries don't use the pitch.
9. Mitchell Johnson – Australia
It is hard to pick a youngster or up-and-coming player for Australia, because it generally turns out that the fresh faces in the team are actually well into their first-class careers and have been waiting for years to break into the team (Hodge), or have played so many internationals that they would be considered a journeyman in any other squad (Watson). Also, a close look at the current Australian squad appears to confirm what many have been suspecting, that the next generation are not showing the promise of the previous lot. They aren't bad necessarily, but Australia's dominance of the game cannot continue and it could well be this tournament that the tide turns.
I'm picking Mitchell Johnson to be the most exciting young prospect for Australia in the West Indies. We haven't seen much from him yet, but with his height and pace, he has the potential to be devastating, even with conditions not favouring him.
10. Hiren Varaiya – Kenya
I had in mind that I would make my selections from across the major associations, so by rights, South Africa or Zimbabwe should be represented. However, I was just not at all impressed by the young talent in either of these teams. All South Africa's strength seems to be contained in its older talent, whereas Zimbabwe just doesn't seem to have any. So instead I considered which young player might give us a scare in the group round.
Left-arm spinner Varaiya has compiled a very impressive record over the last year or so against such opposition as Canada, Bermuda, Scotland and the Netherlands (all World Cup qualifiers mind you). I see no reason why the next natural talent waiting to take the world by storm shouldn't be born in Kenya, and perhaps his first outing against real opposition – the match with New Zealand on March 20 – could be his big opportunity.