The 23-year-old has been hugely impressive in the recently-concluded 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.
Arora’s performance caught the eyes of Indian Premier League (IPL) scouts. He was called up by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Mumbai Indian, and Rajasthan Royals for trials. On Saturday, KKR picked him for Rs 20 lakh in the IPL auction.
“I didn’t move an inch during the entire auction. I was very nervous, but when, ‘Vaibhav Arora sold to KKR,’ was announced, I went berserk. Playing in the IPL is every cricketer’s dream, especially for our generation, as we have grown up with this tournament,” Arora told TOI from Jaipur, where he is with the Himachal Pradesh team for the Vijay Hazare Trophy 50-over tournament.
Net bowler for Punjab Kings
This won’t be Arora’s first IPL stint as he was in Dubai with Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab) as a net bowler.
“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’s, Chris Gayle, Glenn Maxwell, Mayank Agarwal in the nets. It took the fear factor away from me,” said Arora, who hails from Ambala Cantt.
Arora’s inswinging yorkers and deceptive bouncers left an impact on 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.”
Arora, over the years, has been the proverbial journeyman cricketer. In 2011, at the age of 14, he moved to Chandigarh from his hometown Ambala to pursue a cricketing career. He took admission in DAV Senior Secondary School, Sector 8 C, and immediately enrolled in the cricket academy. Thrice he was selected for Punjab U-19 camp but never got the opportunity.
In 2018, he moved to Himachal Pradesh and turned professional. He immediately left his impact in the U-23 One Day matches, and with 26 wickets in nine matches, he ended up 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.
“I moved to Chandigarh when I was in Class IX. My father (Gopal Arora) feared sending me to Chandigarh. I was young and had never stayed away from home, but he gave in to my perseverance,” Arora recalled.
“I never got an opportunity to play for Punjab U-19. In 2018, my coach (Ravi Verma) helped me to move to Himachal Pradesh. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) has backed me a lot. I was never treated an outsider,” he said.
Ravi Verma, under whom Arora is training for the past 10 years, is happy with his ward’s development. “Back then, I was the coach at DAV School, and he left an impression on the very first day. There were 15 medium pacers under me, and Vaibhav was the best among the lot,” he said.
“It is his patience and self-belief which has paid off. In 2016, he came to me and said, ‘Sir koi job laga do (Please get me a job). His family’s financial condition was not well. His father, who runs a dairy farm in Ambala, was neck-deep in debt. He wanted to quit cricket. I somehow managed to keep him in the game,” said Verma.
In 2017, Vaibhav met with a bike accident while he was on his way to IS Bindra Cricket Stadium in Mohali. The injuries kept him away for a year.
“He was on the edge after that accident. In the hospital, when we were doing scans, he told me, ‘sir lagta nahi upar wala chahta hai ki mai cricket khelu (Sir, I think even God doesn’t want me to play cricket),” recollected Verma.
However, Verma was not ready to give up on Vaibhav. He did everything he had to do for Vaibhav and got him registered with HPCA.
“He was 21 when he turned professional. Not everyone takes that kind of gamble, but he had no other options. I want him to grab his chance whatever comes in his way,” he said.
When asked what did he tell Vaibhav when he was picked for KKR, he replied: “I said the same thing when he was selected for the Himachal Pradesh U-23, which is ‘start hitting the toes and the helmet of the batsmen and you will be noticed.”