The young Afghan keeper’s performance will be crucial for his team's chances in this tournament.
Should he appear for Afghanistan in this ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 then Ikram Ali Khil, at just 18 years of age, will become the 41st teenage World Cup cricketer.
The young wicket-keeper batsman has been drafted into the squad in place of the injured Mohammad Shahzad, and the task of replacing him is not an easy one, but nor is it one with which Ali Khil is unfamiliar. He has already represented his nation, playing in two of their five ODIs against Ireland in place of usual wicket-keeper Shahzad, before playing alongside his mentor in a Test match against the same opposition.
This though will be a stiffer challenge, as Afghanistan line up against the best teams in the world and Khil’s first game could be as soon as tomorrow, when Taunton plays host to a clash with New Zealand. The team handed the big gloves to Rahmat Shah during the warm-ups, but they might prefer a specialist option.
Ali Khil made his List A debut less than a year ago. The teenager does have some history with international tournaments to draw from: He represented Afghanistan in both the 2016 and 2018 Under 19 Cricket World Cups. In the second one, he scored an important 80 as the rest of his team’s batting capitulated in their semi-final against eventual runners-up Australia, as well as claiming five catches and a stumping across four matches.
He was also a key player for his country as they won the 2017 U19 Asia Cup, claiming the Player of the Match award in the final with an unbeaten 107 as his side cruised to a 185-run win over Pakistan.
He is unlikely to be a straight swap for Shahzad at the top of the batting order; he has so far batted no higher than No.5 for the senior side and normally comes in at No.3 in age group and domestic cricket. But his glovework could prove to be just as important as his batting. Much of the focus on Afghanistan at this World Cup has been on their spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi, and the 'keeper's ability to make the most of any chances generated by the bowlers could be key for Afghanistan to win games.
He has some experience of keeping to Rashid, as they played alongside each other during the 2016 U19 Cricket World Cup. The leg-spinner has developed greatly since then, however, and Al Khil will need to find his feet quickly in a high pressure environment to give his side their best chance of competing against the world’s best.