While all the noise before an Indian Premier League (IPL) season tends to be around the international stars, both Indian and overseas, young cricketers have a unique opportunity to show their worth under pressure.
Although most of them have to scramble to get a spot in the playing XI, the ability of players to deliver when given those chances helps the IPL unearth the world's upcoming international stars.
To be eligible for the Emerging Player Award - given every year to the most promising young talent of that edition - a player must meet the following criteria. He must be under 25 years of age, must have played 5 or fewer Tests or 20 or fewer ODIs, must have played less than 25 IPL games and cannot be a past recipient of the award.
Here's a look at five players who could be contenders for the award in IPL 2021.
#5 Riyan Parag (IPL 2021: RR)
One of the younger players of the lot, Riyan Parag is not a newcomer - he made his IPL debut in 2019 - but he is still merely 19 years of age. A handy batsman and part-time leggie, Parag famously took the Rajasthan Royals home against the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2019, pushing the two-time champions further on their downward spiral.
RR did not have a good season last year, but the likes of Parag and Rahul Tewatia should be in line for more opportunities this season. Consistent middle-order knocks and a few contributions with the ball could make Parag a front-runner if he starts the season well.
Check out the latest IPL 2021 point table here!
#4 Ruturaj Gaikwad (IPL 2021: CSK)
After narrowly missing the award last season, Ruturaj Gaikwad could be one of the contenders during this edition as well. Likely to play for CSK in the top order, Gaikwad showed his talent last season when CSK had already been eliminated - after failing miserably during the early part of the season - and might get a long rope this time.
The Pune-born batsman has a good sense of timing and can be an anchor for CSK, with the likes of Moeen Ali or Robin Uthappa to go after the bowling from the other end. As long as he does away with his starting jitters, he should have a great season ahead of him.
#3 Shivam Mavi (IPL 2021: KKR)
Someone who made the headlines for his terrific pace at an Under-19 level, Shivam Mavi didn't quite have an ideal IPL introduction. He was infamously taken apart by Shreyas Iyer on the latter's captaincy debut back in 2018, but he did show glimpses of his pace and skill.
Mavi has the nip and aggression to trouble batsmen in the powerplay. He also has the ability to swing the ball and bowl variations, and can be a consistent threat this season.
Mavi is a handy batsman as well, and would look to add some runs for KKR in the limited batting opportunities he gets in a strong batting line-up.
#2 Ravi Bishnoi (IPL 2021: PBKS)
Merely 20 years of age, Ravi Bishnoi entered the IPL straight out of the ICC Under-19 World Cup, which he finished as the highest wicket-taker. Playing all 14 group stage games for the team last season, Bishnoi did not always pick up wickets but consistently bowled economically in tandem with fellow leggie Murugan Ashwin.
A good debut season would encourage his captain KL Rahul to use him in more tricky situations, such as the powerplay and later in the innings. Should Bishnoi hold his own, he has a very good shot at the Emerging Player Award.
As India's chief wrist-spinners go through a dry patch, it would not harm Bishnoi to perform well enough to get noticed at that level either.
#1 Abdul Samad (IPL 2021: SRH)
19-year-old Abdul Samad will once again take the field for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2021 after making his debut in a shaky middle order last season.
With SRH having acquired some middle-order experience in the form of Kedar Jadhav, along with a settled top four of Warner, Bairstow/Saha, Pandey and Williamson, Samad might be able to express himself more freely this season.
A part-time leg-spinner as well, Samad was required with the ball in IPL 2020 - including in a final over. Though his bowling is a work in progress with him conceding at close to 14 runs an over, it does give David Warner an extra option in case a bowler has an off day.
Samad's sky-high strike rate of 171 last season holds a lot of promise, and he could walk away with the Emerging Player Award this year.