Ten under twenty 2016

With 2015 champions Yorkshire kick-starting another summer of County Cricket with defeat against the MCC in the annual curtain-raiser fixture in Abu Dhabi this week, I take a look to the future with ten young names under-20 to watch out for in 2016.

England U19's v South Africa U19's
At just 18, Yorkshire’s Matthew Fisher looks set to have a long international future in front of him. (Photo Credit: Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Saif Zaib (Age 17) – Northamptonshire

A stylish left-handed batsman who also bowls left-arm spin, Zaib is highly regarded by many at Wantage Road. In July 2014 – just months after becoming the youngest man ever to represent Northants in an unofficial match against Durham UCCE – he made his much anticipated senior limited overs debut against a touring New Zealand A side aged just 16 and 70 days old.

While he saw his opportunities diminish somewhat thereafter, an impressive string of second XI knocks during the middle of last summer saw him break into the first XI – making both his Royal London Cup and County Championship bows in the process. Despite registering a 12-ball duck on first-class debut, he impressed not long after with an assured 21 off 26 deliveries against a strong touring Australian attack.

What 2016 holds in store?

After signing a new three-year contract prior to last summer, the future looks bright for Zaib. With the departures of club stalwarts Stephen Peters (retired) and Kyle Coetzer (released), there should be more opportunities for him to earn a regular berth in the middle order and follow the likes of Ben Duckett and Olly Stone in graduating through the system in recent years.

With former England spinner Monty Panesar also training with the club during pre-season, expect some of his wisdom and experience to rub off on Zaib’s own left-arm tweakers.

Matthew Fisher (18) – Yorkshire

Still only just 18 years old, It’s hard to believe that almost three years have passed since this strapping fast bowler made his first team debut for the White Rose. Then just 15 years and 212 days old, he became the youngest post-war County cricketer when representing Yorkshire in a Yorkshire Bank 40 fixture against Leicestershire in June 2013. Whilst he scored just ten and returned figures of 1-40 from seven overs, it was clear for all to see – this was a special cricketer in the making.

With a fast bowling battery that’s unrivalled across the country for its sheer depth and variety, its understandable that regular opportunities haven’t been so easy to grasp for Fisher. That said, 2015 did represent a breakout season for the right-arm quick as he made both his first-class and T20 debuts for the county.

After a spate of early season injuries and England call-ups decimated the Yorkshire attack, Fisher was called upon to make his County Championship bow against Nottinghamshire in April – earning high plaudits in the process as he claimed former Zimbabwe batsman Brendan Taylor as his maiden victim in first-class cricket.

Further opportunities arrived in the form of the limited overs competitions too – where he became a regular across the summer after taking a dreamy 5-22 against Derbyshire on T20 debut. He would go on to claim 16 wickets in 13 T20 matches and eight wickets in as many matches in the one-day format.

What 2016 holds in store?

With David Willey arriving from Northamptonshire during the winter, and sighting a burning desire to fight his way into the England Test setup as a key factor, Fisher’s first-class exposure may have to put on hold for a little longer as Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan and Steven Pattinson also still stand above him on the depth chart.

Limited overs cricket remains a different prospect though. Yorkshire’s recent philosophy of blooding youngsters in the T20 Blast and Royal London one-day competitions will surely see Fisher earn more opportunities to further enhance his rapidly developing reputation.

Daniel Lawrence (18) – Essex

Right-handed batsman Lawrence burst onto the scene with a chanceless 161 against Surrey last April, in doing so he became the third youngest batsman to register a Championship hundred at just 17 years and 290 days old.

His 2015 Championship fast-tracking was based on a strong winter campaign down under with Geelong side Newton and Chilwell and backed up with a string of impressive pre-season performances for Essex.

While his County form tapered off as the summer wore on, he reinstated his rich promise with two hundreds in three innings for the England U19’s against their Australian counterparts in August and continued to dominate during the winter with further impressive campaigns both in Sri Lanka and during the U19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

What 2016 holds in store?

The tides are turning in Chelmsford. After years of underachievement finally caught up with head coach Paul Grayson he left the club by mutual consent late last summer and has since been replaced by former England bowler Chris Silverwood.

Following Grayson out of the door over the winter were batsman Mark Pettini and Greg Smith, which is sure to spell more opportunities for Lawrence. While Alastair Cook will open the batting for Essex before England duties arrive in May, Lawrence is thereafter likely to slot in alongside Nick Browne at the top of the order with Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Jaik Mickleburgh and Jesse Ryder rounding out the top six.

Aneurin Donald (19) – Glamorgan

Not since Simon Jones arrived onto the scene in the late nineties has there been as much fanfare over a cricketer heralding from the land of the red dragon.

Like Jones, former England U19 captain Donald hails from the Welsh city of Swansea and like Jones, and Robert Croft before him, there is hope that he can one day represent the senior England side.

A middle-order batsman of huge potential, Donald made his Glamorgan debut in a first-class match at the backend of the 2014 summer and progressed further last year with five more Championship appearances including a career-best score of 98 to conclude the season in fine style against Gloucestershire.

Despite having played five limited over fixtures for Glamorgan last summer and being a former captain of the side he was initially left out of the England U19 setup throughout the winter before returning to play two unsuccessful matches during the disappointing World Cup campaign in February.

Prior to the tournament Donald spent time honing his batting at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide, where he also played grade cricket with mixed success.

What 2016 holds in store?

After finished the 2015 summer as the incumbent number four in the Glamorgan side, Donald will be hoping he retains his place for the beginning of the 2016 season.

Without the added pressures of academic work to concentrate on during the 2016 campaign, the whole of Wales will be hoping Donald can graduate into a regular contributor in the middle order, scoring his maiden first-class hundred in the process would also be a major goal.

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Durham’s Jack Burnham topped the run-scoring charts at the recent U19 World Cup with 420 runs at 84. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Jack Burnham (19) – Durham

Unlike Donald, Durham’s Burnham had a excellent World Cup. His three hundreds in just six innings were enough to see him top the batting charts with 420 runs at 84.

In recent times the Championship’s most northerly county appear to be the gift that keeps on giving. Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have all progressed through the Durham ranks into the England side recently and Burnham could become next off the conveyer belt.

After batting at number six and making 0 and 50 against Yorkshire at Scarborough on his first-class debut in August, Burnham struggled thereafter after being asked to open alongside Mark Stoneman in his remaining three matches.

Despite having success opening for Northumberland in Minor Counties cricket, Chester-le-Street -with its green wickets and overcast skies – is at times an unforgiving task, especially for an inexperienced rookie.

What 2016 holds in store?

With finances still tight in the North East, substantial player recruitment has been consigned to the back burner in recent times – leading to a major need for developing talent from within. This will again mean more opportunities in 2016 for Burnham and other young batsman such as Ryan Pringle, Graham Clark and Keaton Jennings.

Despite opening last summer and batting at number three in the U19’s World Cup, skipper Paul Collingwood would do much worse than letting Burnham develop his game further down the order.

Haseeb Hameed (19) – Lancashire 

Bolton-born Hameed made huge strides in 2015. After making his first-class debut for the Red Rose in August he went onto establish himself at the top of the order as Lancashire earned immediate promotion back to the top flight.

Those inside Old Trafford were not entirely surprised by the way Hameed took to Championship cricket with relative comfort. After all he had been earmarked as a player of special talent for quite some time.

A right-handed batsman with an excellent defensive technique and sound temperament, Hameed -who has represented the County since he was nine – was recently awarded with a new four-year contract for his progress in 2015, which included a career-best 91 against Surrey in September.

What 2016 holds in store?

After the disappointment of missing out on a place in the England U19 World Cup squad, Hameed will make the step up to Division One cricket with an extra motivation to prove a few people wrong.

He will make the step up seemingly in pole position to partner Karl Brown at the top of the Lancashire order after club stalwart Paul Horton was released during the fall.

As fellow young teammate Luis Reece will testify though, opening against Division One bowling attacks is a totally different proposition to that encountered in the Second Division. Facing international-quality attacks in early season conditions will test Hameed’s technique and temperament more than ever before – but many say he’s got the game to prosper in such circumstances.

Saqib Mahmood (19) – Lancashire

Much like Hameed, Lancashire also have high hopes for right-arm quick Mahmood. Born in Birmingham but raised in the Lancs’ town of Rochdale, he’s progressed through the youth ranks at both county and international level – impressing many along the way.

A strong fast bowler who stands at 6’3, Mahmood has endured a memorable year. After signing his first professional contact with Lancashire at the beginning of last summer and winning the England Development Programme cricketer of the year award in May, he went onto play three T20 matches in June before recently excelling with the England U19 side in their World Cup campaign.

His 13 wickets at just 12.69 in that tournament were six more than any of his teammates individually managed and only bettered throughout by Fritz Coetzee of Namibia (15 wickets) and Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane (14).

What 2016 holds in store?

Like rivals Yorkshire, Lancashire aren’t short of fast bowling options. Breaking into a side that’s likely to include several options in Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, George Edwards, Kyle Jarvis, Neil Wagner and the evergreen Glen Chapple won’t be an easy task for Mahmood.

But like with any side hoping to challenge on all three fronts over the course of the summer, injuries and rotation are expected to play there part, meaning that Mahmood could once again become involved across the shorter formats.

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Could Mason Crane of Hampshire be England’s next great legspinning hope? (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Mason Crane (19) – Hampshire

Crane is a rare commodity in English cricket, a highly promising young legspinner with a well disguised googly.

Such is the current concern over English spin bowling, that when an 18-year-old Crane took ten wickets at 33 across his first three first-class matches last summer – he was being heralded as a saviour to the country’s spin crisis.

Many, including former England batman Mark Butcher, were even going as far as suggesting he should have being picked for England’s tour of the UAE in October. In retrospect, Crane must be given a longer chance to learn his craft at county level before he’s considered for the international scene.

Growing up watching Shane Warne play for Hampshire during the 2000’s, Crane has been a member of the academy since he was 14 and has developed soundly under the tutelage of Rajesh Maru and Darren Flint.

Like Mahmood, he impressed during the U19 World Cup. As well as taking seven wickets at 23, his economy rate of just 3.97 suggests he can also play a holding role with the ball.

What 2016 holds in store?

With longtime first choice spinner Danny Briggs seeking pastures new by moving east to Sussex, Crane could be given plenty of opportunities to be the number one spinner across all formats for Hampshire. That is if they decide to play the extra slow option to accompany spinning allrounder Liam Dawson.

Either way, Crane is regarded as a special talent who will definitely be given opportunities later in the summer once the pitches begin to dry out.

Matthew Carter (19) – Nottinghamshire

Much like Crane for Hampshire, offspinner Carter arrived onto the first-class scene with a bang. Making his bow at Taunton in July, he returned first innings figures of 7-56 – the best by a spin bowler on Championship debut since Leicestershire’s Jack Walsh took 7-46 against Northamptonshire in 1938.

Although he went onto turn the first innings seven-for into match figures of 10-195, he was unable to starve off defeat for Notts as Somerset squeezed home by two-wickets.

Despite his exploits at the County Ground Carter, the younger brother of former-Notts bowler Andy, wasn’t called upon again for the remainder of the summer. Instead he combined his playing time between the Notts Second XI and Minor Counties action with Lincolnshire.

A tall, but slender offspinner with a classical action he was awarded with a new two-year contract at the conclusion of he 2015 season.

What 2016 holds in store?

Whilst one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the impact of Carter’s debut performance at Taunton has led to a real long-term hope that he can one day replace Graeme Swann at Trent Bridge.

The major problem facing Carter though is that Notts play half of their matches at the seamer-friendly Trent Bridge. In recent years they have preferred to get by with four fast-men and the part time left-arm spin of Samit Patel.

His great hope for more playing could lie with the new ‘no toss ruling’ that could result in the Trent Bridge ground staff producing more even surfaces as the summer wears on.

Sam Curran (17) – Surrey

At 17, Curran is perhaps the best of the lot. A quick left-armer with the ability to swing the ball back into the right handers, his rapid rise in 2015 was nothing short of miraculous. From Wellington Collage pupil to Surrey match-winner in the blink of an eye.

Opening the bowling on debut alongside his older brother Tom, Sam Curran became the youngest player ever to take a County Championship five-wicket haul when he claimed 5-101 against Kent in July, aged just 17 and 40 days old.

After such an impressive debut, Curran went onto finish the season with 22 first-class wickets at 26 – helping Surrey win the Second Division title and finish runners up in the Royal London Cup in the progress.

Also a very capable batsman, Curran has followed in the career footsteps of his not just his brother Tom but also their late father Kevin, who was a professional cricketer for Northants, Gloucestershire and Zimbabwe. Thankfully for England both Sam and Tom have rebuffed advances to represent Zimbabwe and pledged their futures with the Three Lions.

What 2016 holds in store?

Despite the arrivals of West Indian Ravi Rampaul and Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt and the presence of Matt Dunn, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, both Curran brothers should be among the first names on the Surrey team sheet in the County Championship this summer. Making the step up from Division Two will ensure plenty challenges along the way, most notably the greater standard of batting and quality in pitches prepared.

After a stand out U19 World Cup campaign, further England opportunities such as the England Lions would represent a successful summer for this hugely exciting talent.

Also look out for…

Joe Clarke (19) – Worcestershire, Karl Carver (19) – Yorkshire, Matt Critchley (19) – Derbyshire, Brad Taylor (19) – Hampshire.

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