Six cricketers to follow in 2010
It's that time of year again - the time for me to look at the talented young cricketers across the globe and pick six players who I think will make an impact in 2010.
A reminder of the format: as per previous years, I am selecting three young players making their mark on the county scene, one player from each country touring England in the summer (Bangladesh and Pakistan), and a member of the England women's team.
Last year was a typical mix of good picks and not-such-good picks: Mitchell Johnson finished the year as Test cricket's top wicket-taker in 2009 while Laura Marsh was the leading bowler in the World Cup. The other four had quieter years.
Anyway, before I give you the six, three players get honourable mentions.
Umar Akmal (the Pakistan batsman) has done everything asked of him so far for his country and is a massive prospect, while it will be fascinating to see how Rory Hamilton-Brown goes on his return to The Oval to lead Surrey after two seasons at Sussex. Leicestershire batsman James Taylor, meanwhile, had a wonderful 2009 and was voted young cricketer of the year by the Cricket Writers' Club.
Mohammad Aamer, Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Sam Northeast, Mushfiqur Rahim and Ebony Rainford-Brent
Mohammad Aamer - age 17, born Gujjar Khan, Punjab, left-arm fast-medium
At an age when most English players are looking to make the move from their club side to the county second XI, Aamer is virtually a household name already.
He had no problem adjusting to the nuances of English conditions when playing a key role in Pakistan's ICC World Twenty20 triumph in June, and boasts a fine record in that format as well as one-day internationals.
Tall, rhythmical and with a remarkable ability to bowl the right ball at the right time (especially in view of his youth) he moves the ball both ways off the seam, has a deceptively dangerous bouncer and is already touching 90mph. Frankly, this kid is frightening.
Steven Finn - age 20, born Watford, right-arm fast-medium bowler
At 6ft 7in, height is Finn's principal asset, but observers of Steve Harmison's career know this can be as much a blessing as a hindrance.
Finn made his Middlesex debut as far back as 2005, becoming the county's youngest player in the process, and has appeared for England at all age-group levels from under-16 to under-19.
He bounced back from an in-and-out 2008 campaign to bowl more than 400 overs in the Championship last season amid signs that his development remains on track - and with Angus Fraser the perfect mentor at his county, 2010 promises much for Finn.
Alex Hales - age 21, born Hillingdon, west London, right-hand batsman
As a 16-year-old in 2005, Hales, a tall, strong batsman, famously hit 55 in one over (which featured three no-balls) at Lord's in London County Cricket Club's Founder's Day tournament.
Since then he has signed for Nottinghamshire, and - while remaining relatively unexposed in first-class cricket - he is developing a burgeoning reputation in one-day cricket, and struck a brilliant unbeaten 150 in the Pro40 against Worcestershire last summer.
He comes from good stock too: his father Gary reportedly broke various batting records in league cricket and grandfather Dennis once forced Rod Laver to five sets at Wimbledon.
Sam Northeast - age 20, born Ashford, Kent, right-hand batsman
In Kent's final match of last season, Northeast, then still 19, carried his bat to register his maiden first-class century. The next best score after Northeast's 128 was Rob Key's 46.
Writing in The Times, Ivo Tennant reported: "Northeast has the eye and reflexes of a high-class rackets player, which is what he is, and this century will doubtless be the first of many. A prolific run-scorer at school and in England representative cricket, he drove with authority through mid-on, punched the rising ball square of the wicket and pulled to good effect."
As far back as 2006, while still at school, he was picked for the Getty Invitational XI against the touring Sri Lankans, and hit 62 despite having to face Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. There's something about this lad.
Mushfiqur Rahim - age 21, born Bogra, Bangladesh, keeper & right-hand batsman
Was handed a baptism of fire when making his Test debut aged 16 at Lord's in 2005 following some precocious glimpses of his talent (including a century against Northants), and hit a gritty 80 in his third Test in Colombo.
Went through a slump in form, and found himself in and out of the side, but the last year or so has seen him produce some important half-centuries in Test matches.
Became first-choice wicketkeeper after Dhiman Ghosh's departure to the Indian Cricket League, and is generally respected as a solid gloveman. His weakness is batting in limited-overs cricket.
Ebony Rainford-Brent - age 26, born Lambeth, south London, right-hand batsman
A second serious back injury when she was just 17 almost ended Rainford-Brent's career shortly after her first two England caps in 2001. She is back in the team now and hit her best score to date of 72 in an otherwise disappointing England tour of West Indies in November.
Although the England team deserves massive plaudits for its success in holding the Ashes, the World Cup and World Twenty20, batting depth remains a concern with only three players - Claire Taylor, Sarah Taylor and Charlotte Edwards - consistent scorers.
The hope now is that Rainford-Brent can bed into the team and hold together the weaker middle order if England are to remain the side to beat in women's cricket in the mid-term.