Jasprit Bumrah (India)
Among the greatest challenges for batting sides taking on India in this World Cup will be overcoming Jasprit Bumrah, a fast bowler whose homespun action and laser-precise yorkers place him among the leading exponents at the death.
The 25-year-old is a child of the Indian Premier League, plucked from obscurity six years ago when John Wright, the former India coach, spotted him while scouting a local T20 tournament. Bumrah’s pace and accuracy caught the eye, generated from a quirky approach that sees him canter to the crease like a dressage horse before a ramrod straight bowling arm morphs into a bullwhip, lashing the ball down north of 85mph.
A hyper-extendable elbow is at play here but so too the skills developed during his formative years when, to avoid a telling off from his mother, he would bowl a tennis ball into the skirting boards at home and thus prevent it from bouncing around wildly.
Bumrah will be keen to set the record straight on English soil too. It was in the 2017 Champions League final that his front-foot no-ball gave Fakhar Zaman a life on three, with the opener going on to make a century that powered rivals Pakistan to victory. Ali Martin
Jos Buttler (England)
The figures gives us a good idea why Jos Buttler is the most feared English batsman in white ball cricket – and the most Mankaded. His strike rate (119.57) is well ahead of any other Englishman. He averages more than 40 runs per innings. He has hit 117 sixes in 108 innings. Only Eoin Morgan (189 in 207 innings) has hit more.
Buttler epitomises the new generation; indeed he has made the major contribution to creating the new generation. He is a trailblazer, advancing the game even from the recent days when Kevin Pietersen was England’s most destructive batsman. Buttler hits the ball incredibly hard in every direction; even though we are used to him now he still makes us gasp.
Yet he is the most calculating of cavaliers. He assesses risk carefully, times run-chases artfully and practices assiduously. One day he might concentrate on the scoop shot over his left shoulder that has tormented so many modern bowlers or the on-drive drilled into the stands, the next he might just as easily be working on the gap-finding single on the leg-side. He is forever adjusting his method to the state of the game or the wicket. His hunger to improve, which was evident in those early days in Taunton, remains strong. In white-ball cricket he has achieved most things – except a winner’s medal in an ICC tournament. Vic Marks
Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
His bowling arm turns over like a V8 engine, his follow-through is as dramatic as a Jed Mercurio finale. When Kagiso Rabada left the IPL early with a back strain, you could practically hear the South African groans in the wind. The team’s fast bowling attack was already compromised, with Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje only just back from injury, and Dale Steyn resting a longstanding shoulder problem. That Rabada’s withdrawal was merely precautionary is good news for more than the Proteas – the World Cup will be a greater spectacle for the 24-year-old’s electric pace.
Ever since he took the best ever ODI figures for a player on debut – six for 16 against Bangladesh in 2015, including a hat-trick in his second over – Rabada has been South Africa’s hottest sporting star. Named the best young player in the world last year by Wisden, he has collected more international wickets since the last World Cup than any of his peers. Rabada’s yorkers could be one of the most potent weapons in this year’s tournament. Don’t be surprised, either, if the fireworks extend beyond his bowling – he has been in trouble before for aggressive on-field behaviour. Emma John
David Warner (Australia)
A mistake when forecasting how Steve Smith and David Warner might go in national colours for the first time since their sandpaper bans is grouping them together. For the former, the toll has been considerable. His entire life was, more or less, one success after another – along the way becoming Australia’s most popular person. The fall was mighty.
But Warner is different. To understand the southpaw is to appreciate that he doesn’t care what people say in the comments beneath his Instagram posts. In the best traditions of the working class brawler, he has resilience for days. Sure, he wants to be liked too – don’t we all. But above all else, he relishes proving himself with bat in hand, over and over and over again.
So, for the now-bearded 32-year-old, this World Cup couldn’t be better timed: the biggest stage with all eyes on him. Sure enough, he bounced out of his enforced break by topping the runs list at the IPL, a princely sequence that included a century and eight other scores above 50 in 12 innings. As for his record in ODIs, where he rattled
off eight centuries in 12 months just two years ago, it speaks for itself. This is made for Warner. Adam Collins
Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
A splash of Kane Williamson on your cornflakes goes a long way. It is something about the unearthly calm, the talent combined with lack of ego. The modest trust in his own abilities combined with hard work and good old dependability. Throw in peerless catching and that technique: so proper, so perfect, playing the ball straight and late, equally comfortable against spin or speed, back foot or front, shots in all directions. The theory is that despite all this, he cuts such a diminutive figure, likeable, relaxed, still, that he doesn’t get up the opposition’s nose. So they lose focus. Big mistake.
He is already New Zealand’s greatest batsman, surpassing even Martin Crowe, and he hovers just below Virat Kohli at the top of the Test rankings. He is 11th in the ODI list, below countrymen Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, but he knows what he is doing – remember that six he swatted off Pat Cummins to win the group game against Australia in the 2015 World Cup? New Zealand got so close that year, and this time around, he is captain. He has been hampered by a recent shoulder injury but won’t mind being underestimated – a brilliant, laidback, ambidextrous, leader of men. Tanya Aldred
Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
Within a couple of years it’s become clear that Rashid Khan was the kid who opened floodgates. Elite cricket spent decades ignoring players from associate nations. But Rashid showed the talent waiting in their ranks, and the world’s domestic T20 leagues gave a venue.
Rashid didn’t just make it. He redefined what leg-spin could do in short formats. He became a bona fide star, starting in the Indian Premier League. He zoomed to No 1 in the international T20 rankings, helped his country through cut-throat World Cup qualifying, and added to the momentum that saw Afghanistan attain Test status. And he is still only 20 years of age.
Rashid is an all-rounder you can build a team around. Even in the fury of T20s he goes at barely six runs an over with a wicket every 15 balls. He bowls fast but with sharp turn and an indistinguishable googly. His bag of tricks is allied with absurd accuracy and calm. Teams often try to play him out, and come unstuck in the process.
The 50-over game needs different tactics, and Afghanistan on paper will be outmatched. But if batsmen become too preoccupied with Rashid, upsets are very much on the cards. Geoff Lemon