Arshdeep Singh was the happiest man on the ground after the fall of Robin Uthappa’s wicket. The bowler was Vaibhav Arora, but Arshdeep celebrated like it was his wicket.
Punjab Kings pace duo Arshdeep Singh and Vaibhav Arora have known each other for a long time. They have shared a new ball for Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Sector 26, Chandigarh, met with a road accident outside the Punjab Cricket Association, Stadium, and now are bowling in tandem for Punjab Kings in the IPL.
“There was a fast bowling camp at PCA in 2017, and they had an unfortunate accident right at the gate of the IS Bindra Cricket Stadium. Both had suffered injuries in the elbows and knees,” Ravi Verma, Vaibhav Arora’s coach and local guardian, recalls of the incident when he received a call from the hospital.
Since that accident, Arshdeep went on to play for India Under-19 and even bagged an IPL contract; on the other hand, Vaibhav was selected for the Punjab Under-19 camp thrice, but he never did get the opportunity.
After another rejection, a dejected Vaibhav asked his coach to look for a private job as he wanted to quit cricket. Vaibhav’s father, Gopal Arora, used to run a dairy in Ambala and they suffered a huge loss in their business. The dairy was shut and since Vaibhav was the eldest son they wanted him to earn money. But Ravi Verma was not going to quit on one of his most promising wards.
“I was shocked. My first reaction to him was that you suffered the injury on your knees, not your head. I knew that his family was going through financial problems. So I called his father and asked him to give two more years to Vaibhav, I will take care of all the finances; he doesn’t have to pay a single penny,” said Verma.
In 2018, Verma helped him to move to Himachal Pradesh as a professional. Being an outsider and turning professional at the age of 20 didn’t work well for Vaibhav. In one of the district matches, seven catches were dropped off his bowling, and an irritated Vaibhav called his coach again and asked him, ‘Sir koi bhi private naukari dekh lo, cricket ab nahi ho sakta (Sir please look for a private job, i am done with cricket).
“I told him to get a ‘Quitter’ tattoo on his forehead and never call me again,” recollects Verma.
Vaibhav decided he will give another chance to cricket, and in the next match, he returned with a five-wicket haul. His impressive outings at the district level helped him to get selected for the Himachal Pradesh Under-23 side.
Vaibhav’s life was changing. He immediately left his impact on the U-23 One Day matches, and with 26 wickets in nine matches, he ended up as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament. Next year, he was fast-tracked into the Himachal Pradesh Ranji team and registered best figures (9/105) on his debut against Saurashtra.
The debut at Dharamshala was memorable because during the match, he went past rock-solid Cheteshwar Pujara’s defence and the middle stump went for a cartwheel.
Arora’s performance caught the eyes of IPL scouts. He was called up by Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians, and Rajasthan Royals for trials. But he went unsold in the IPL 2020 auction. His friend Arshdeep helped him and Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab) signed him as a net bowler for the IPL 2020, which was held in Dubai.
“Those 80 days with the Punjab Kings gave me an enormous amount of confidence. It took my bowling to the next level. I was bowling to KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Glenn Maxwell, Mayank Agarwal in the nets. It took the fear factor away from me,” Arora had told this paper after the Punjab Kings picked him for Rs 2 crores at the IPL mega auction.
Arora’s inswinging yorkers and deceptive bouncers left an impact on then Punjab Kings captain KL Rahul and coach Anil Kumble. He recalled: “After our first net session in Dubai, Rahul bhai asked me where do I play from and said you would play in IPL soon. Anil sir also came to me once and asked a similar question; he said I have got the potential and told me to keep working hard.”
In the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, his 10 wickets in six matches helped Himachal Pradesh reach the quarterfinals, where they lost to the eventual champion Tamil Nadu by five wickets. The Kolkata Knight Riders later picked him for Rs 20 Lakh in the IPL 2021 auction.
On Sunday afternoon, before leaving for the stadium, Vaibhav called up his coach Ravi Verma and said: “Sir aaj laga raha mereko khilayenge (I might get a game today).”
When asked what he told Vaibhav when he said he might play today, Verma replied: “I said the same thing when he was selected for the Himachal Pradesh U-23, which is ‘start hitting the toes and the helmets of the batters and you will be noticed.”
Arora’s intuitions came true as he not only played against Chennai Super Kings but also returned with impressive figures of 2/21 from his 4 overs.