Despite the administration boards of all sixteen 2020 T20 World Cup teams on the cusp of looking at squad selection and trying out new formulas ahead of the tournament, there are always players who come out of seemingly nowhere, or even the wilderness, to take their place in the nation's squad. So, we are going to take a look at each nation to see who the selectors could surprise everyone with at this year's showpiece event and why.
The 2020 ICC T20 World Cup is edging closer and closer. Each team will begin to gear themselves towards it with a lot of T20I matches and series coming up over the year prior to the big climax in October and November. Many people may think the squads are just about sorted for some of the smaller nations while bigger nations' fans may be tricked into thinking every option has been or is currently being explored, bar the potential headline news returns of MS Dhoni and AB de Villiers, which, let's face it, wouldn't be a great deal of a surprise.
It's the perplexing selections we are after this time though, ones that get one group of people applauding the bravery of the selectors while simultaneously causing another group to groan as they read the squad list of their favorite team.
Who can forget the surprise call-ups in the 2016 edition of Peter Nevill of Australia, Saqlain Sajib of Bangladesh, Pawan Negi and Harbhajan Singh of India, Khalid Latif of Pakistan or 16-year-old Waqas Khan and the most shocking Ryan Campbell, at age 44, both for Hong Kong?
There are always a whole host of shocking selections that either turn out to be strokes of genius or absolute disasters, so let's take a look at who some of these potential surprises could be, and don't call me crazy!
#1 Shafiqullah Ghafari
This one might not be a surprise at all by the time the squad announcements come round. But, right now, it would be a shock. With Nabi, Rashid and Mujeeb in the XI and Sharafuddin, Qais and Zahir vying for a squad place or two, Shafiqullah Ghafari will have his work cut out.
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However, his Under-19 World Cup has been miraculous so far, with his best moment coming against a seemingly out of their depth South Africa, where he claimed a stunning 6-15, followed it up against the United Arab Emirates with 5-23 then tormented South Africa once again with 4-15. Oh, did we mention, he can also bat a bit too? Rashid Khan watch your back!
#2 Fawad Ahmed
After all the hype in the last two years, an international return seems very slim now for 38-year-old Fawad Ahmed, but if the Australian selectors feel inspired by Imran Tahir, they might give the wily veteran one final crack in the baggy green.
His form isn't as good as it was, say last year, but if the selectors feel like a different flavor and with options slimmed after Chris Green's dramatic banning due to action, Green's best friend Fawad may sneak his way in and I would wager than when he gets in, he's going to make it very hard to take him out.
#3 Mehedi Maruf
A long-touted potential opener for Bangladesh in the shortest format is Mehedi Maruf. Although spots are disappearing every month for Bangladesh, Maruf is never out of contention to finally make his Bangladesh debut at the top.
Despite an underwhelming average, the former Under-19 player has always had the potential to go big. While it would be one of the bigger shocks of these selections, I am not willing to shut the book on this dashing opener just yet.
#4 Ravi Bopara
As every day goes by, this one looks more and more unlikely. If not in 2016, when would Ravi Bopara ever claim his rightful spot back? Possibly now. He seems reborn as a genuine T20 finisher and his bowling is as useful as ever.
Winning last year's T20 Blast for Essex seemed to get the ball rolling for comeback rumors and he has signed with Sussex in a bid to improve those chances but this seems, at least right now, to be one that fans would love to see but might not.
#5 Suresh Raina
One man who still believes he can be India's reliable number four for both the 2020 and 2021 T20 World Cups is Suresh Raina. All that the Chennai Super Kings legend will be thinking is he needs one good Indian Premier League and he will be right in the running.
It is unclear whether India will make the trip for the 2020 Asia Cup T20, but if they do that could provide crucial too. If Raina somehow makes that squad, he will have to perform superbly, but if he doesn't, he will have to reluctantly hope his main rivals in selection have a nightmare.
#6 James Shannon
When James Shannon scored a wonderful 60 against India, the nation was sure he would take the reigns and dominate at the top order for Ireland for years to come, but that potential hasn't come to fruition.
The opener has only recorded a career T20I average of 13.87 however and the India innings by itself has not been enough to keep him in the team for that long. So, he needs to work to regain his place. There is still time for the Irish opener though and with the selectors still looking to finalize their squad, Shannon could still be in with a shot.
#7 Sarel Burger
Alright! We admit that this one is a bit out there. Sarel Burger hasn't played since 2018, but that isn't the crazy part. He is 36 and well and truly looked finished after his 16-year Namibia career came to an end in Windhoek on the 25th of February, with a bit of a whimper.
But of all the Namibia players, if there is a true icon of their past, it's Sarel. He is the epitome of a player who gets the job done, no matter the style or what people think of it later. And that doggedness could be a huge asset, even as a squad member, if Namibia want to get out of a group with Bangladesh, Netherlands, and Scotland.
#8 Michael Rippon
Despite declaring for New Zealand and representing Otago regularly since then, I get the feeling that the door is not entirely shut on left-arm chinaman bowler Michael Rippon. There is still a space in the Netherlands squad for a third spinner behind Roelof van der Merwe and Philippe Boissevain if form justifies it.
Rippon's last Netherlands appearance came in the tri-series at Lords in which he scored 38 not out from 22 balls with three fours and two sixes, but he did not bowl after the match was called off due to rain.
#9 Corey Anderson
Formerly knows as the 'Prince of Mumbai' following his heroic innings of 95 not out from just 44 in taking the Indians past Rajasthan Royals into the play-offs, Corey Anderson should have been rocking the international stage for a while now, especially in this format. Anderson just hasn't managed very well since, with his bowling being expensive and his batting to inconsistent to be relied upon.
However, as usual with these players, glimpses are still there. And sure, the Kiwis have Neesham, de Grandhomme, and Mitchell all around the first team and playing well, but Anderson has more star quality than all of them and you know it, although you might be reluctant to admit if you are a New Zealand fan. Quickfire 20-odd scores are all that Anderson can manage at the moment, but it only takes one brutal century and he might take back his crown in internationals as the Prince that he always could have been.
#10 Vaibhav Wategaonkar
What usually happens with the smaller nations is a former player makes a reappearance despite not taking much part in the qualification method. Vaibhav Wategaonkar might be no different as it turns out. He has only ever played one T20 for Oman but a slew of ODI appearances with an average of 31.90 and a best of 114 unbeaten might just see selectors tempted to give the Mumbai native a ring.
Even though he is 37, there are older players who will likely take part, and old players, even some above 40, regularly turn out for associate nations. If you take it to the extreme with a tiny nation, Turkey even had four debutants last year aged 59, 57, 57 and 54! His last game was only in 2018, so that might be a good sign for Vaibhav fans, but he may just not be interested in a final showing.
#11 Kamran Akmal
This divides Pakistan fans constantly. Some fans are infuriated that they don't get chances and some are equally annoyed people even speak about possible comebacks with the situation similar to Ahmed Shehzad's. Both Akmal brothers were in the same boat prior to this season's Pakistan Super League, yet only one is any kind of contender for the World Cup.
The raw talent is there. Umar is probably slightly more talented than Babar Azam but at times has the enthusiasm and temperament of a wet fish, ruling himself out of the World Cup after a failure to report potential spot-fixing. Kamran is far more mature but is ignored by selectors even more despite the best statistics on offer by Pakistani batsmen in the PSL, which is used to feed the national team constantly.
A vicious hundred to start off the 2020 edition may just swing them his way this time around. If we are fair and take an unbiased look at what they offer and what the team needs, he should probably make it in. But will he? Probably not, it would be a major surprise if Kamran was eventually picked.
#12 Mahuru Dai
Papua New Guinea have been very consistent with their team selection but one name always lingers on the lips of PNG's biggest fans. That name is a bonafide legend of the barramundis, Mahuru Dai. Dai is one of the most consistent players Papua New Guinea have ever had as along with consistent batting returns, his bowling is magnificent, whether he chooses to bowl off-breaks, leggies or even the odd medium pacer.
The spin department for the first XI looks pretty strong, as Jason Kila and Assad Vala provide the off-spin and Charles Amini with some help from Lega Siaka bowl the leggies for the team. Yet on the bench, there is only off-spinner Hiri Hiri who offers any back-up, and his place in the team would not be as solid if Mahuru Dai was to return.
He had a pretty quiet exit from the team back in 2018 as some fans didn't even know he was gone until his name escaped the World T20 Qualifier squad list. So, Mahuru may want to put that right with a last-minute T20 explosion. Hiri Hiri is a fantastic player, but a Mahuru Dai return would be glorious.
#13 Angus Guy
The 17-year-old Scotland Under-19 captain Angus Guy may be in for a surprise if Scotland plump for him as the third-choice opener due to Scotland's lack of back-up openers at the moment. Even if this doesn't come to be, a middle-order spot isn't completely out of the question either as Guy is a very flexible batsman.
His middle-order performances in the 2020 Under-19 Cricket World Cup have been steady in the face of adversity with his team's underdog status, but opening in T20s could be the perfect remedy to break the shackles for the youngster.
#14 Colin Ingram
No, we didn't go with AB de Villiers. We've picked another veteran, Colin Ingram. Would AB's return really be a shock? We don't think so. Mr. 360's return would be much-hyped and unsurprising, but a post-Kolpak return for this T20 journeyman would certainly create a few extra headlines.
Ingram would certainly not look out of place in the South Africa T20 side and his experience and style would suit, benefit and compliment some of the other middle-order bashers like du Plessis, Miller and Van der Dussen. You might be able to soon add AB de Villiers to that lIst and maybe even Rilee Rossouw, although whisper it quietly.
#15 Thisara Perera
Sri Lanka have been remarkably consistent in giving players regular chances recently and under the leadership of Mickey Arthur, a Rocky-style comeback for any player isn't likely. There is one player who will probably be left out leading up to the event despite having a good chance of making it in the end though. This man is Thisara Perera.
Perera has long been one of Sri Lanka's stalwarts and most dynamic players, but he has fallen out of favor and his last T20I appearance came in early 2019. As we all know, he can never be ruled out of another World Cup given his vast experience of 79 T20Is.
#16 Dwayne Smith
Our final nation is the West Indies and we have quite the potential shock call up for you here to round it off. This time last year a comeback for veteran Dwayne Smith looked more than remote. A comeback to any kind of cricket looked slim, but his lifeline this year at the CPL proved humongous for his chances.
His bowling form in last year's CPL was nothing short of stunning, with some breathtaking spells with miserly economy rates. An all-round Dwayne Smith could be a surprising asset for West Indies, even as a back-up. So, it might be a risk very worth taking given the tough group Windies find themselves in.