THE eyes of the cricketing world will be on Taunton this week as some of the best players from around the globe head to Somerset’s county town.

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, which has been underway since last Thursday, is getting into its stride and the County Ground is all set to stage the first of its three matches when Afghanistan take on New Zealand on Saturday (1.30pm).

The match will make use of the new floodlights and temporary stands are in place to take the capacity up to around 8,000.

In addition, a free Fanzone will be set up in Castle Green and North Street with a big screen showing England v Bangladesh, fun cricket activities and a range of multi-cultural music, entertainment and food.

Here are six players to keep a particularly close eye on...

Kane Williamson

New Zealand's skipper is one of the classiest batsmen the world has to offer across all formats.

He is calm and understated as a leader but a silky player to watch and is the glue which holds his team together and allows the big-hitters to express themselves.

Rashid Khan

There are few, if any, more dangerous spinners with a white ball than Afghanistan's star man.

Khan has all the tricks in the book with more than an armful of variations, which has seen him star in the IPL and Big Bash - he also has experience of English conditions, having taken 17 wickets at 14.35 for Sussex in last year's Vitality Blast.

Martin Guptill

Anyone after a crowd catch tomorrow could be in luck if the Black Caps' assertive opener gets going.

His track record speaks for itself, with 16 ODI centuries and 13 fifties, and he also has the ability to go big.

The last World Cup saw him belt an unbeaten 237 in the quarter-final against the West Indies, for example, while he also struck 189 from 155 balls against England in 2013.

Hazratullah Zazai

New Zealand are not the only team with a big-hitting opener tomorrow - Hazratullah Zazai fills that role for Afghanistan.

He missed out against Australia in the first match but fired a quick 30 against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, while an unbeaten 162 from 62 balls against Ireland in February shows what he is capable of on his day.

Lockie Ferguson

The Black Caps have an excellent pace attack - Trent Boult, Matt Henry and (the so far injured) Tim Southee are all class operators - but, for sheer speed, the moustachioed Ferguson is the one to watch.

He has topped 91mph in the tournament to date and 58% of his deliveries against Sri Lanka, when he took 3-22, were over 87mph - higher than any other bowler.

Blink and you'll miss him.

Mohammad Nabi

The backbone of Afghanistan's remarkable rise (see below), captain Nabi is an effective off-spinning all-rounder - as shown by his three wickets in an over against Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

Certainly does not lack for experience, having played against 45 different countries on his country's journey so far.

Story so far

New Zealand are the clear favourites going into the match.

Beaten finalists four years ago, the Black Caps have kept much of that team together and they look strong in all departments, with two wins from two so far.

They began by humping Sri Lanka by 10 wickets in Cardiff before edging past Bangladesh by two wickets on Tuesday.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, remain winless after defeats to Australia (seven wickets) and Sri Lanka (34 runs, DLS).

The backstory of Afghanistan’s national cricket team is a remarkable one and they have come an incredible way in a short space of time.

When Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992, cricket fever swept through the nation and spread into the Afghan refugee camps set up there at the time.

Cricket in Afghanistan was banned by the Taliban until 2000 and the country became an affiliate member of the ICC a year later.

They quickly climbed the ICC ranks and, just nine years after they started their journey ranked 90th in the world, Afghanistan qualified for the 2010 T20 World Cup.

Afghanistan just missed out on the 50-over World Cup the following year but qualified for the first time in 2015 and are not just here to make up the numbers four years on - though Tuesday’s defeat in what was a winnable game against Sri Lanka will have hurt.


Afghanistan (from): Gulbadin Naib (capt), Aftab Alam, Asghar Afghan, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Ali Khil (wk), Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari.

New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (capt), Tom Blundell (wk), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.