A glimpse of cricket's future
On the eve of the 2016 Under-19 World Cup, Kagiso Rabada, the star of the previous edition in the UAE, bowled South Africa to victory in the Centurion Test against England with a 13-wicket haul and announced his arrival as a fast bowler to reckon with in world cricket. Rabada became the youngest South African to take a Test-match ten-wicket haul and his figures of 13 for 144 were the second-best for his country.
Mustafizur Rahman is another pace-bowling sensation to emerge from the 2014 Under-19 World Cup. The left-armer burst onto the international stage with 11 wickets in his first two ODIs, against India. Rabada's fizz off the pitch and Mustafizur's variations wouldn't have surprised anyone who watched their exploits in the Under-19 World Cup. Likewise, the 2016 tournament could give fans their first glimpse of a number of future superstars.
The eleventh edition of the Under-19 World Cup comes at a time when many teams are hoping for new talent to come through quickly. The tournament will offer a glimpse of the future of cricket at the highest level, through how the players tackle new challenges on and off the field.
Already, a lot of players are excited by the fact that 20 games will be televised live. For many, it is a first chance to play in front of cameras, in front of crowds, and in Test venues. The players will experience unprecedented levels of security, especially with the Bangladesh government providing state-level security in the wake of Australia's pullout.
Each team will have a different objective. New Zealand have already said they would like to emulate the playing style of their senior team, and adopting the role of go-getters in every contest. With a large proportion of first-round matches expected to be one-sided, a proactive, entertaining side could well gain a lot of fan interest. New Zealand certainly have a team that can go deep into the tournament. Players such as Josh Clarkson, Glenn Phillips and their captain Josh Finnie already have first-class experience, while Christian Leopard recently made headlines with a 61-ball hundred against the Pakistan Under-19s in the tri-nations tournament in the UAE.
India, coached by the legendary Rahul Dravid, have some names that are already well-known within cricket circles. Sarfaraz Khan is playing his second Under-19 World Cup, and has already turned heads with his batting blitzes in the IPL. Armaan Jaffer, the nephew of former India batsman Wasim Jaffer, is a more sedate version of batsman, but like Sarfaraz hails from Mumbai. Avesh Khan, Rishabh Pant and Ricky Bhui have all played first-class cricket, as has their captain Ishan Kishan who has a first-class hundred and has recently received captaincy advice from MS Dhoni.
For those from India and Pakistan, myriad opportunities await through this tournament. Of all the teams, it is India's players who can hope for the speediest journey into the limelight, and not just via a call-up to the national team. IPL contracts are a major attraction, and scouts will be watching eagerly with the tournament just months away. Pakistan have a history of fast-tracking talented youngsters from the Under-19 stage, and their players now also have the Pakistan Super League to look forward to.
Much is expected of England, many of whose players already have County contracts. The legspinner Mason Crane and batsman Dan Lawrence are talked up as future international stars, and plenty of eyes will be watching keenly for Sam Curran, who had some success for Surrey and England Lions last season. The left-arm quick is the son of the former Zimbabwe cricketer Kevin Curran, while Tom Moores of Nottinghamshire is the son of former England coach Peter Moores. Their captain Brad Taylor was the youngest player to appear for the Hampshire first XI since 1867, playing a Yorkshire Bank 40 match against Lancashire at the age of 16 years and 154 days.
For Bangladesh, this is a tournament for the players to show the depth of talent in the country beyond the senior side, which enjoyed a run of good performances in 2015. There is tremendous pressure on the players, but while that can be seen as unfair, there is no escaping it with the World Cup being played at home. Bangladesh's performances in junior cricket also warrant the expectations.
In the last 12 months, the top five run-scorers and top four wicket-takers in Youth ODIs are all Bangladeshis. The captain Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who bats right-handed and bowls offspin, is on both lists, and he, along with the likes of batsman Nazmul Hossain Shanto and left-arm spinner Saleh Ahmed Shawon, will shoulder plenty of responsibility over the course of the tournament.
Sri Lanka's under-strength senior side could do with an injection of fresh talent, and the country's cricket fans have invested plenty of hope in the likes of Shammu Ashan, who hails from Ananda College, which produced Arjuna Ranatunga, and Lahiru Kumara, who is from Kandy's Trinity College, famous as Kumar Sangakkara's alma mater.
The tournament will also give the West Indies an idea of what their future might look like, and whether the next generation will be able to change the fortunes of the struggling senior side. Among the players hoping to catch the eye are their captain Shimron Hetmyer, who has already played first-class cricket, and Kirstan Kallicharan, who in 2014 made 404 in a 35-over school game in Trinidad. He was only 14 at the time.
Just like Zimbabwe, and perhaps surprisingly so, South Africa may also need to dip into their junior ranks to invigorate their senior side, which has suffered back-to-back series losses against India and England, and find themselves in a transition phase. Where the last Under-19 World Cup was Rabada's platform to excel, this one could see the rise of their captain Tony de Zorzi, allrounder Wiaan Mulder or left-arm spinner Sean Whitehead.
Among the players from the seven qualifying teams, the occasion itself is massive, particularly for first-timers Fiji. There will also be special interest in Nepal, the latest nation to embrace cricket in their hearts.
Among the Associates, Afghanistan have a slightly higher profile, with the players potentially in the radar of scouts from the BPL, PSL and other domestic leagues. Ihsanullah, their captain, is the younger brother of the former Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal, and the legspinner Rashid Khan has already played international cricket, having appeared in seven ODIs and 4 T20s. Rashid and the chinaman bowler Zahir Khan should make for a potent spin combination.
In four Bangladeshi cities over the next three weeks, cricket will see its future. For a number of sides, what happens here will be as important as the fortunes of their senior players.
January 27, 2016, 0526 GMT: The article earlier stated that this is the ninth edition of the Under-19 World Cup. It is the eleventh edition. The error has been amended.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84