UNDER-19 CRICKET WORLD CUP PREVIEW - AFGHANISTAN: After falling to Australia in the knockout stages last time out, a young side heads to South Africa ready to spring an even bigger surprise on the world stage
Coach: Raees Ahmadzai
Captain: Farhan Zakhail
Last time: Fourth
Previous best: Fourth in 2018
Noor Ahmad: The left-arm wrist-spinner recently became the youngest player to enter an IPL auction, having only turned 15 earlier this month.
There is more to his move than just blind ambition, though – Ahmad was reportedly invited to a pre-auction training camp by Rajasthan Royals, and he has thus far claimed a team-best 15 wickets at 15.33 in Youth ODI fixtures since being called up to the team after impressing coach Raees Ahmadzai.
Rahmanullah Zadran: Few players in the tournament can boast a century in first-class cricket, but right-hander Rahmanullah achieved the feat from 149 balls against Kabul in just his third outing in the format.
Such performances earned the youngster a place in the Mis Ainak Knights side for 2019's Shpageeza Cricket League – while he did not end up making an appearance, having international players like captain Mohammad Nabi and namesake Rahmanullah Gurbaz on hand will have been a splendid experience for the 17-year-old.
Farhan Zakhail: Appointed captain of the side at just 16 years of age, Zakhail is also the side's highest scorer in Youth ODI matches with 212 runs since the last World Cup.
A confident right-hander, he averages 44.23 in first-class cricket and has previously captained Kabul to their only win of the domestic four-day competition – with the result in no small part thanks to his twin tons (104 and 108) as opener.
Test cricket's newest nation has become renowned for its youthful spin corps in recent years, and the Under-19 side has proved no exception.
Rashid Khan, Qais Ahmad, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Zahir Khan have all featured in one or other of the past two World Cup tournaments before finding franchise success, and the low-scoring games that often drive the narrative of global tournaments whatever the age group and format would likely suit some middle over control from this year's candidates for their rapid journeys.
While Afghanistan were only denied a shot at third place last time out by a rained-off playoff game against Pakistan, the side will be desperate to prove that 2018's performances were no fluke.
On paper, their path through the initial group stages looks fairly straightforward – while a limping South Africa to open the tournament is their only Full Member clash they have in the first round, subsequent fixtures with Canada and the United Arab Emirates will be sure to catch them out if they rest on their laurels, and a dearth of fixtures ahead of the tournament could see them struggle to adapt to conditions.
Farhan Zakhail (c), Noor Ahmad, Sediq Atal, Shafiqullah Ghafari, Fazal Haq, Imran Mir, Jamshid Mir Alikhil, Abid Mohammadi, Ishaq Mohammadi (wk), Asif Musazai, Abdul Rahman, Abid Taniwal, Ibrahim Zadran, Rahmanullah Zadran, Zohaib Zamankhil
Friday, January 17: South Africa v Afghanistan (De Beers Diamond Oval, Kimberley)
Wednesday, January 22: Afghanistan v United Arab Emirates (Absa Puk Oval, Potchefstroom)
Friday, January 24: Afghanistan v Canada (Ibbies Oval, Potchefstroom)