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Eight names to watch out for at the Desert T20 tournament

Nizakhat Khan had a prolific 2016 season, which included his maiden first-class century Hong Kong Cricket

Fareed Ahmad - Afghanistan

Since breaking down the doors of world cricket beginning in 2008, Afghanistan have been able to showcase a vast array of talent, and most prominent in this regard has been their uncanny ability to unearth talented fast bowlers. Hamid Hassan was a trailblazer among them for his reverse swing at high speed and when he tapered off due to injuries, Dawlat Zadran and Shapoor Zadran took up the mantle. Left-arm quick Fareed Ahmed is now poised to pick up the baton.

Fareed first came to the limelight three years ago when he claimed figures of 7 for 21 to bowl out Pakistan Under-19s for 52 in a 214-run romp for Afghanistan Under-19s. Six months, later he took 5 for 54 bowling with the new ball on his first-class debut against Zimbabwe A. However, it took him until December to get a chance in limited-overs internationals for Afghanistan, where he turned in an impressive showing in the three-match T20I series against UAE, taking five wickets at an average of 17. He now has a chance to show what he can do against some of the other top-flight Associates.

Nizakat Khan - Hong Kong

The 24-year-old right-hander had been simmering for the last few years before an explosive season in 2016. Facing a fourth-innings target of 310 against Ireland at Stormont, Nizakat backed up his first-innings 69 with a maiden first-class hundred, ending up last-man out for 123 as Hong Kong fell by 70 runs. In the T20 that followed three days later, he set the platform for a 40-run win by opening with 62 off 43 balls.

On Hong Kong's December tour to Australia, Nizakat blasted an unbeaten 104 against reigning Big Bash League champions Sydney Thunder. He had been barred from bowling since the 2015 World T20 Qualifier, when his legspin action came under scrutiny, but was recently cleared, and this has made him an all-round threat in the tournament.

Joshua Little - Ireland

The 17-year-old is the youngest player at the tournament, but Ireland appear keen to give him as much experience as possible because a rejuvenated pace-bowling unit is their ticket to reestablishing the fear factor that has dissolved in recent times. As a 16-year-old at the 2016 U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, he was clocked at over 135 kph during his 3 for 52 against India.

Little made his T20I debut against Hong Kong in September and, on a day when more senior pacers took some tap from the visiting line-up, the young bowler had a respectable economy rate of 6.25 despite going wicketless in his four overs to finish with 0 for 25. He's still developing and might continue to add more pace, making him a tantalising prospect.

Gerhard Erasmus - Namibia

The 21-year-old athletic talent is returning to the country where he captained Namibia at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup. He has been groomed for a future leadership role since his men's national team debut at age 16 against Ireland in 2011 but it has taken him some time to adjust to senior-level cricket.

He took a major step forward, though, against KwaZulu-Natal Inland in November, striking a career-best 192 in South Africa's first-class provincial competition. When he is flowing, Erasmus can play some silky strokes. He has yet to truly fire in T20 cricket, but it is only a matter of time before he translates the promise he showed at junior level into some big scores.

Vivian Kingma - Netherlands

Most people mean it figuratively when they say they grew up with cricket all around them. Kingma says it literally. His family loves cricket so much they bought a house adjacent to the Voorburg Cricket Club on the outskirts of The Hague. That passion comes through the 22-year-old, who bowls in the 130 kph range and can be a feisty competitor with the ball in his hand.

Kingma had been waiting patiently behind Mudassar Bukhari in the Dutch medium-pace queue for the last few years, getting limited opportunities to showcase his skillset in the Intercontinental Cup and the WCL Championship; up to this point he has played only two T20s. Bukhari's partial retirement and non-selection for this tour may provide the opening Kingma needs to show he can be a performer in all formats for Netherlands.

Arun Poulose - Oman

An opening batsman, Poulose migrated from Kerala to Oman and qualified on residency to play for his new home in late 2016. He made his debut against UAE and top-scored with 47 in his third match to give Oman a 72-run win, prior to the WCL Division Four in Los Angeles.

Although he didn't make many scores during Oman's stay in Los Angeles, his best was 42 off 27 balls against Italy, a sign that he may be more suited to T20 cricket. While other poor performers at Division Four were axed at selection time, coach Duleep Mendis has kept faith with Poulose for this event, where he has the capacity to form a dangerous opening combination with Zeeshan Maqsood.

Craig Wallace - Scotland

The 26-year-old was included in Scotland's squad for the 2015 World T20 Qualifier but never played and wound up being left out of the side that went to India last March. However, he reemerged during the home summer in ODIs against Afghanistan, UAE and Hong Kong as a potential x-factor in the batting order.

Wallace's audaciousness may be best summed up by the fact that he's the only player at this tournament who might walk out to open the batting and attempt to reverse sweep a fast bowler off the first ball of the match. His innings are brisk and bold. Anyone attending would be unwise to step away while Wallace is batting because something crazy is always on the cards with him at the crease.

Muhammad Usman - UAE

It has been a rough 18 months for the host side since the retirement of their do-everything captain Khurram Khan. However, one of the bright spots during this lean stretch has been the emergence of the left-handed batsman Usman. He has performed well in different conditions since making his UAE debut at the end of 2015.

Most importantly, Usman's contributions have helped take pressure off Shaiman Anwar in the middle order, in turn helping Shaiman back into form. If Usman can remain a consistent threat, UAE may find themselves having a resurgence that could be good enough to help them retain ODI and T20I status beyond the 2018 World Cup Qualifier.