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Kolkata Knight Riders are renowned and believe in grooming young talents and helping them shine on the big stage. The two-time Indian Premier League (IPL) champions have enabled several youngsters to rub shoulders with international stars, and many of them have even gone on to represent India at the international level.

This year, too, the Knights have brought youngsters like Vaibhav Arora, Harshit Rana and Suyash Sharma to the fore, who have churned out impressive performances when given chances. Take Arora as an example. The young pacer played a key part in KKR’s six-wicket victory over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on May 14 (Sunday), which keeps them afloat in the ongoing TATA Indian Premier League (IPL).

Entrusted with bowling the final over, he put the brakes on CSK’s late surge by first dismissing Ravindra Jadeja on the fourth ball, and then keeping Mahendra Singh Dhoni at bay with perfectly bowled yorkers. Although he bowled two extras towards the end of the CSK innings, his ability to find the block hole regularly left even the usually stoic Dhoni impressed.

If the former Indian captain’s epic reaction to Arora’s yorker made you notice him for the first time, you probably need to know more about the 25-year-old. It’s a story of a youngster’s hard work and determination, of one who contemplated quitting cricket at an early age, but eventually overcame several obstacles to continue his pursuit of cricketing excellence.

Born on December 14, 1997 in Ambala, Haryana, Arora did his schooling from Lord Mahavir Jain Public School, Ambala Cantt. and DAV Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh. He went on to pursue a BA-B.Ed at Chandigarh University. In 2017, a grave tragedy struck Arora as he and Arshdeep Singh met with a car accident outside the Punjab Crucket Association Stadium.

Although they recovered soon enough, Arora suffered another heartbreak when he didn’t get to play a single match for Punjab U-19 despite being selected thrice. These incidents and a district game, where 7 catches were dropped off his bowling, made Arora want to sever his ties with cricket. However, it was his personal coach Ravi Verma who brought the disappointed youngster back on track by chiding him and telling him to get a ‘Quitter’ tattoo inked on his forehead. It was surely a moment of epiphany for the youngster.

Arora made his first-class debut against Saurashtra in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy. A couple of seasons later, the youngster made his T20 debut for Himachal Pradesh against Chhattisgarh in the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Arora’s steady progress on the domestic circuit caught the attention of several IPL franchises, and he was even called up by KKR, Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals for trials. Eventually, the Knights picked him up for Rs 20 lakh in the 2021 mini-auction.

Although he couldn’t make his IPL debut that season, Arora was part of the KKR squad that staged a miraculous turnaround to reach their third IPL final. Despite being released by KKR ahead of the 2022 mega auction, Arora drew massive interest from the Knights in the auction, but it was Punjab Kings who eventually got the youngster for Rs 2 crore (ten times his base price) after a fierce bidding war.

Arora emerged as an impressive performer for Punjab Kings last season, finishing with 3 wickets in 5 matches. He, in fact, made a dream start to his IPL career as he helped Punjab Kings cruise to a thumping 54-run victory. Opening the bowling that day, Arora starred with figures of 2/21, which accounted for the key scalps of Robin Uthappa and Moeen Ali. In an interview after the match, Arora admitted that it was a “dream come true moment” for him, like “every young cricketer in the country”.

Arora also said that he was exposed to the rigors of the IPL much before his debut, when he joined the Punjab franchise as a net bowler during the 2020 edition. For the young pacer, moving to Himachal Pradesh from Haryana at a tender age was a “life-changing decision” as he made his way up playing various age-group tournaments in Himachal Pradesh.

After making a mark in his maiden IPL campaign, Arora returned to the Purple & Gold camp for Rs 60 lakh in December last year, and has so far done a decent job for the two-time champions. Explaining the decision to buy Arora back, KKR’s Assistant Coach Abhishek Nayar said after the auction, “Vaibhav has been with us in the past and were very impressed with him. He was part of Punjab Kings last season and we tried to acquire his services last year as well. We wanted someone who could swing the ball and open the bowling. Vaibhav fits the bill perfectly, and we are pleased to have him back.”

Arora also had a decent Ranji Trophy 2022-23 campaign, finishing as Himachal Pradesh’s leading wicket taker with 25 scalps from 7 matches, including a five-for against Odisha. In 4 TATA IPL matches this year, the right-arm pacer has claimed 3 wickets. In addition, his ability to swing the ball in both directions makes him a useful asset for any team. Besides, his height also helps him extract adequate bounce off the surface, which is always a threat to opposition batters.

Earlier this month, Arora (2/32) helped the Knights register a thrilling five-run victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at the Uppal by dismissing Aiden Markram and Marco Jansen.

Arora is indeed going from strength to strength and is in the process of writing a phenomenal success story. He has been blossoming under KKR bowling coach Bharat Arun’s guidance and also learning more about the intricacies of pace bowling from international pros like Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson.

In a recent interview, Arora said that he was delighted to return to KKR and play at the Eden Gardens. "Bharat Arun sir is guiding me on the finer aspects of fast bowling and helping me hone my skills. I want to introduce new dimensions to my bowling and improve my outswing. Playing alongside senior players like Umesh bhai, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Andre Russell - it’s a big learning curve for me. KKR have always helped youngsters grow, and I am really grateful to them.”

Having returned to the KKR starting lineup after a week, Arora did put up a good showing against CSK. The Purple & Gold think tank would now be hoping that the tall pacer carries his confidence into their final league game against Lucknow Super Giants at the Eden Gardens on May 20, Saturday.