You shake hands with Afghanistan captain Ihsanullah and wonder if he's only 18. How does a teenager get bulging wrists, a broad chest and stands around six feet tall? The answer lies not in his year of birth, but his origin.
Ihsanullah's family hails from the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt; he was born in Peshawar in the northwest of Pakistan. People from that region are generally strongly built.
He could have made it big in Pakistan cricket, at least at Under-19 level, had he not moved to Afghanistan with his family. But if he had not moved to Afghanistan, he wouldn't have been a cricketer at all.
Ihsanullah had not thought of cricket as a profession while he had been in Pakistan. Things changed rather quickly once he was across the border. "When we moved to Afghanistan, I didn't have any friends," he said. "To make new friends, I started playing cricket, and then reached a professional level. Soon, I started playing Under-19; I played the last World Cup too and now I'm the captain."
Ihsanullah is one of the four Afghanistan players, along with Muslim Musa, Waheedullah Shafaq and Zia-ur-Rehman, to have featured in the 2014 edition of the tournament in UAE. He averaged 35 with 175 runs from six innings even as the side finished seventh.
More recently, he led his side in a tri-series involving India and Bangladesh in Kolkata, but managed just 64 runs from four matches with a highest of 25. If that wasn't enough pressure, he copped three more low scores against Zimbabwe Under-19 in a bilateral series in Greater Noida. He finally came good by scoring a brisk 51 to lead them to a 4-0 series win.
Soon upon arrival in Bangladesh, Ihsanullah continued from where he left off by clobbering 133 off 125 balls with 14 fours and four sixes in a warm-up against Ireland.
"Every player feels good when he comes back to form and it's good for the player and team both," he said. "It's very important to keep scoring runs because these are World Cup matches . Hopefully, I'll continue my good form like this. There's definitely pressure on me to perform as captain. I don't know about the others, but when I'm in the pavilion, I feel some pressure. But when I go out to bat, I feel no pressure at all. I take some time at the wicket and then I score automatically."
Ihsanullah is not the first captain from his family. One of his older brothers, Nawroz Mangal, led the Afghanistan senior side to remarkable success, helping them become the first Affiliate nation to gain ODI status in 2009 and then qualify for the 2010 World T20.
While Mangal could not lead them to wins against top teams like India and South Africa at their first big global tournament, his brother Ihsanullah is determined to take his side to the knockouts of the Under-19 World Cup, maybe even all the way. "We are aiming to not only make the semi-finals but also go on to become champions," he had said before the warm-up matches started.
The junior side would also want to emulate the senior team's recent performances. "We have barely spoken to the senior team because they have been very busy lately, playing against Zimbabwe and holding camps," Ihsanullah explains. They were also tired and needed breaks in between. So I just met my brother Nawroz Mangal and spoke to him a bit."
That Ishanullah speaks his mind comes through refreshingly. Born and brought up in the T20 era, does he watch Test matches too? "I'm a big fan of ODIs, watch them a lot. Tests take so much time," he says with a hearty laugh. "I watch Tests once in a while like Ashes, they are really good."
Like any other junior cricketer, Ihsanullah also dreams of playing for the national team, and maybe even lead them too. But for now, he's restricted to watching them on TV. "Inshallah I'll play for them one day."