'He was streets ahead': UAE's Vriitya Aravind backed to shine at T20 World Cup

Student wicketkeeper will be being cheered on by his mates on the other side of the globe when UAE start their campaign in Australia on Sunday

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When the UAE get their T20 World Cup campaign underway against the Netherlands on Sunday, support for them in the stands at Kardinia Park in Geelong might be sparse.

Yet the reach of the team’s support is undoubtedly global. Friends and family from back home in the UAE will be glued to the Starzplay livestream, as will many more at various points around the subcontinent.

And, in the case of Vriitya Aravind, he will be being cheered on from the other side of the world entirely.

The 20-year-old wicketkeeper, who is one of the brightest young talents in cricket beyond the sport’s mainstream nations, attends university in the UK.

In the course of his criminology and psychology degree studies, he has played for the Loughborough University side, as well as as an overseas player for Walsall Cricket Club.

The amiable student has made many friends in the process. Each expects him to thrive on the big stage in Australia.

“Just before he was leaving us he said, ‘What league can I go and play in where I will find bouncy pitches with lots of pace and carry?’,” said Dan Betty, who captained Aravind at Walsall.

“That was weird for us as club cricketers. We told him he would have to keep playing international cricket – probably the World Cup is a good setting.

“I really think he will relish that opportunity. The thing that is so easy to forget with him is that he is still only 20. I will be watching every game that he plays. He made a lot of good friends over here.

“A lot of the boys will be watching his games as he made a really big impact on everyone. He was a joy to be around.”

UAE international Vriitya Aravind combines playing with studies in the UK. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Aravind lived with Betty for four weeks after joining his club, who play in the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League in the Midlands of England, at late notice.

“Via a few conversations we heard about this lad who just wanted to come and play cricket, who was really keen, and from the UAE,” Betty said.

“We thought we may as well. We didn’t have anyone else signed up, so Vriit came along and played a little more than half the season.

“I had absolutely no preconceptions over what he would be like. We watched a couple of videos of him playing T10 cricket in the UAE, but we still didn’t know how he would be playing 50-over, red-ball, club cricket in the Premier League in the UK.

“We didn’t know how he would be or how he would fit in. We had never had anyone from the UAE before. It was new to us all. But he was a breath of fresh air.”

Aravind took some time to adjust to conditions in the UK, which are entirely different to those that prevail in the UAE.

In fact, it is arguable which pitch style is more different to the dry wickets of the Emirates which Aravind has grown up on: the greentops of UK club cricket, or the bouncy surfaces the UAE will be faced with at the World Cup in Australia.

And yet in the UK, he adapted and found a way to score. He hit four half-centuries for Walsall, as well as a top score of 125.

Vriitya Aravind of UAE in action during the ICC World T20 Global Qualifiers Group A match against Bahrain in Muscat, Oman on February 21, 2022. Photo: Subas Humagain

“He took a little bit of time to get used to playing in English conditions and on English wickets with dibbly dobbly bowlers,” Betty said.

“He cared so much about coming to play for us, and about how he was having an impact on the team, which you don’t always find in overseas players.

“He really wanted to win games, and adapted his game. After four or five games he hadn’t got a score, but he adapted his game slightly.

“He arrived having played a lot of T10 and T20 cricket with the attitude that everything must go, you have to take advantage of Powerplays, and you have to find boundaries.

“Then he realised that, if he bats for 50 overs, he would score a hundred easily. He played some of the most outrageous shots I’ve ever seen, but that is probably no surprise to anyone who has seen him on the international stage.”

Aravind’s time in cricket in the UK has been interrupted by both Covid and regular overseas tours with the UAE.

And yet he has still made a name for himself at a university which is renowned in the UK for its sporting excellence.

“When I first met him, he had this dyed blond afro,” said Don Butchart, who was the Loughborough University captain this summer.

“He was in the second team, and because he hadn’t been part of training it was hard to keep tabs on who he was and how good he was.

“I remember watching him in a second or third team game, and he was streets ahead in terms of the way he timed the ball, and in his keeping. He must have slipped through the net in terms of trials as he came from abroad.

“As I got to know him better I found out he was a really great guy. He loves his cricket, and has a smile on his face the whole time.”

UAE cricketer Vriitya Aravind with his mum, Sashirekha, and dad, Rudhravel, in Texas during one of the national team's overseas tours. Photo: USA Cricket

While being at university, Aravind has led an extraordinary double life as student and international cricketer.

He holds a record along with Pakistan stars Shahid Afridi and Ahmed Shahzad as being the only teenagers to have scored two one-day international centuries.

And he was the player of the tournament when UAE sealed qualification to the T20 World Cup.

None of which would have made its way back to his teammates in Loughborough via the man himself, according to Butchart.

“We shared lifts quite a lot at uni this year, and it was crazy how humble he was,” Butchart said.

“He doesn’t talk about sponsorships, the praise he has there [in UAE], or how well he has done.

“After games where he had come back from tours with the UAE, he arrived and was straight into our team.

“He was quiet, and wouldn’t speak up unless he was asked. When the coach did say, ‘Vriits, what do you think?’

"He would always come up with something profound, that we hadn’t thought of as a team.

“There is definitely potential for him to be a captain in international cricket. That is for sure.”

Updated: October 14, 2022, 2:49 AM