Can bat, can bowl, can turn games
Few young talents embody that description quite so completely as Curran. With his boyish looks and slight frame, he does not look long out of school - and in truth he isn't, having gone from playing for Wellington College to representing Surrey and then his country within the span of four summers. He made his Test debut while still a teenager - turning 20 on day three against Pakistan at Headingley - and a few months later was named Man of the Series for his all-round efforts against India.
A waspish left-armer with an ability to find eye-catching swing, it was Curran's puckish batting that proved influential during his first forays with England, rescuing his team on three separate occasions - at Edgbaston, Southampton and Pallekele - with counterpunching knocks from No. 8.
The first Test against India set the Curran template. He claimed the first three wickets to fall as India wobbled in reply to England's 287, only for a Virat Kohli masterclass to drag them towards parity. With just a slender 13-run lead to build on, England were in trouble at 86 for 6 (soon to become 87 for 7) but Curran stood firm with a breezy 63 from 65 to put the game out of reach.
7 England wins in Curran's first seven Tests.
1 Players younger than Curran to score 250 runs and take ten wickets in a Test series (Kapil Dev in 1978).
What they said
"There's a reason why we voted for Sam as the Man of the Series. I think coming in at that stage in the batting order, and with the ball as well, he's made very important contributions. If you look at the significance of the Test matches, the first one is massive, and after 2-1, the fourth one was massive, and he made plays in both those games. It takes character for someone to come in and play like that."
- Virat Kohli after the series concluded at The Oval
The closest contenders
Long touted as the best wicketkeeper in England, Foakes slipped smoothly into the role of Test gloveman after an injury to Jonny Bairstow in Sri Lanka. Scored a century on debut in Galle - and didn't concede a bye, either.
Pakistan's latest prodigy off the production line, 18-year-old Afridi made his international debut in all three formats and immediately looked at home. A towering left-arm quick, he demonstrated pace, bounce and nous.
Alan Gardner is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick