The first round of the men’s T20 World Cup in United Arab Emirates and Oman will feature a new crop of largely unknown players, keen to make their mark against the world’s best.
While Test-status teams Bangladesh, Ireland and Sri Lanka have been forced to go through this preliminary stage of the tournament, most nations involved in the first week are classified by the International Cricket Council as “associate members”.
If any of these lesser-known sides are going to make it to the second week of the tournament and face off against superstars such as Australia’s Glenn Maxwell or India’s Virat Kohli, they will need some key players to perform straight away.
Here is a short-list of unknown rough diamonds who we think are poised to make their mark.
Charles Amini (Papua New Guinea)
Charles “CJ” Amini comes from a very talented family of cricketers, with his grandfather, father, mother, aunt and brother all having played the sport at some stage for Papua New Guinea.
In fact, the Aminis are so big in Papua New Guinean cricket, the main cricket ground in Port Moresby is named Amini Park.
After delaying his cricket career for his studies for a few years, Amini is now starting to live up to the hype.
Primarily a leg-spin bowler, the 29-year-old batted at second drop in the Barramundis’ opening game of the tournament against Oman and scored 37, before being run out in a mix-up with skipper Assad Vala.
Like many players from Papua New Guinea, Amini has spent some time playing cricket in Australia.
He has trained with both the Sydney Sixers and the Adelaide Strikers at various times in the past decade to help hone his skills and says he has learned valuable lessons from the BBL’s best.
Together with the veteran Vala, Amini will have to perform strongly if Papua New Guinea is to have any chance of progressing to the second week of the tournament.
George Munsey (Scotland)
Scotland opener George Munsey holds the record for the second-highest number of sixes in a T20 International innings, an honour he shares with Australia captain Aaron Finch.
Admittedly, Munsey achieved his 14 maximums against the Netherlands — while Finch did it against England — but his 2019 performance was still a memorable moment for Scottish cricket fans.
The 28-year-old loves to play the reverse sweep and enjoys batting against spin, which should serve him well on the slower wickets in UAE and Oman.
He only scored 29 in his team’s surprise first-round win against Bangladesh but he is in strong form coming into the tournament, scoring four half-centuries in the month of October alone.
Munsey still works as a part-time salesman but a strong showing in this World Cup could potentially put him in line for higher honours for England, as he was born in Oxford and is a regular on the County cricket circuit.
JJ Smit (Namibia)
After first playing for Namibia’s senior team aged just 16 years, Johannes Jonathan Smit has been the next big thing in African cricket for some time.
He is likely to form part of Namibia’s powerful middle order at the T20 World Cup, alongside ex-South African batsman David Wiese, who made the switch to the Eagles this year, and captain Gerhard Erasmus.
Coach Pierre de Bruyn described the three batters as the side’s “bomb squad”, but he is particularly impressed by the hitting power of Smit.
De Bruyn said he expected Smit to hit “sixes into the top tier of the Dubai stands”.
Now aged 25, Smit’s form ahead of the tournament has been unremarkable, with 48 being his highest score in Namibia’s October friendlies.
However, he has been taking regular wickets with his left-arm medium pace bowling, so he is rarely not involved in the game.
Smit became the first Namibian cricketer to sign with an international T20 franchise, having had a stint with the Vancouver Knights in the Global T20 Canada tournament in 2019, where he played alongside Chris Gayle and Andre Russell.
He will probably have to make history at this tournament, too, if Namibia is to get past Ireland or Sri Lanka to progress to the Super 12 stage.
Timm van der Gugten (Netherlands)
Born and raised in Sydney, fast bowler Timm van der Gugten is not a household name in Australia, but he has developed an impressive cricketing resume over the past decade.
The right-arm quick has played for New South Wales and Tasmania in Australian domestic cricket, plus the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL.
He has also appeared for Glamorgan and the Trent Rockets in the UK, while at the same time representing the Netherlands.
Although a promotion from the Netherlands to Australia — in a similar vein to Dirk Nannes — now seems unlikely for Van der Gugten due to the depth of Australia’s bowling stocks, the 30-year-old remains a crucial player for the Dutch.
This is his third appearance at a T20 World Cup. That tournament experience will be especially beneficial now, as the Dutch go into the first round with only a few recent practice games together.
Zeeshan Maqsood (Oman)
As World Cup co-hosts, Oman is desperate to progress to the Super 12 phase of the tournament and, if it is to do so, Zeeshan Maqsood will have to lead from the front.
The Pakistan-born skipper is a left-arm spinner and middle-order batter capable of contributing all around the park.
In the opening game of the tournament, he took 4 for 20 from his four overs to completely stop Papua New Guinea’s innings dead in its tracks.
Rather than sending down a variety of mystery balls, Maqsood’s orthodox spin is from the Rangana Herath school of nudie balls and straight breaks, but his bowling is still effective.
The 33-year-old currently shares the record for the highest number of wickets in an ODI series (29), alongside Oman teammate and left-arm fast bowler, Bilal Khan.
By the way, sitting in third place on that list for most wickets in an ODI series is Mitchell Starc, who could be waiting for Maqsood in the main round if the likeable Omanis get that far.