UAE teenage cricketer Vriitya Aravind making the most of an unexpected chance and an unusual final school year

Wicketkeeper-batsman will graduate remotely on his birthday and then hopes to study criminology

Vriitya Aravind of the United Arab Emirates during the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Group D match between Afghanistan and UAE at Absa Puk Oval on January 22, 2020 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. courtesy: ICC
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The youngest of the cricketers brought in to the UAE side when five players were banned because of a corruption investigation had to interrupt his A-levels to play.

One of the ironies of the disagreeable situation surrounding the game here is that Vriitya Aravind, that 17-year-old newbie, hopes to study criminology when he leaves school.

It is fair to say his final year at Kings Al Barsha in Dubai has been an uncommon one.

Not for him the usual routine of mock exams, revision, stress, final exams, then prom, before heading off into the big wide world.

When his schoolmates were sitting their mocks, back in January, he was representing the country at cricket at the Under 19 World Cup in South Africa instead.

He was due to sit them at the team hotel, with the team’s coach invigilating, but the school agreed he should focus on his cricket at that time.

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 18: Vriitya Aravind of UAE bats during the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Group D match between UAE and Canada at Mangaung Oval on January 18, 2020 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Jan Kruger-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

And now, a global pandemic has ended the prospects of final exams, too, meaning his academic future will be decided by predicted grades. And he will have his graduation ceremony – on his birthday – remotely.

“That is something different – an online graduation,” Aravind said with a laugh.

“The school have supported me a lot, telling me to concentrate on my cricket during the World Cup.

“They said to focus on that, then once I got back, we’d have a meeting with my parents and discuss the situation, and to concentrate on my real exams.

“Unfortunately – or fortunately! - even that has been cancelled.”

No part of the culmination of his school career has run smooth.

There remains a little uncertainty over what happens next, as he aims for a university place studying criminology and psychology.

“I have missed a lot of exams in that time [the past two years], so they have given me a lot of exam questions to do during this quarantine time,” he said.

“They have marked those, and will use that as evidence for my predicted grades.”

The fact he has been absent from school so frequently in recent times has been down to his excellence as a cricketer.

Even when he made his debut for the senior UAE team at the end of last year, in a one-day international against United States, he should have been doing a psychology test.

He regards the subsequent trip to the World Cup, in South Africa in January, as an opportunity that could not be missed.

Ultimately, it ended in "the most frustrating moment", with rain depriving UAE an outside shot at beating the host nation, after Aravind himself had got their chase off to a rapid start.

Vriitya Aravind got the UAE's reply off to a fast start with 31 in 17 balls against South Africa. Courtesy ICC

It meant they missed out on a place in the last eight, but the young wicketkeeper-batsman still says, “the World Cup was an experience of a lifetime”.

“I think I learned a lot, on the field and off the field, and they are things I will carry throughout my life,” Aravind said.

“Playing in the men’s team helped me a lot, learning from players like Rohan Mustafa and Ahmed Raza.

“Ahmed was also on tour with us in South Africa, and he gave us some insights into tactics.

"It was something new for us, playing on TV and with legends commentating on us, and giving us advice.”

Although the movement restrictions in place because of coronavirus have led to cricket being stalled – and two UAE tours, so far, being postponed – Aravind says at least he has managed to find a routine.

Mornings have been devoted to studies, while afternoons have been about cricket conditioning.

That has seen him strengthen up, thanks to a loan of some free weights from the facilities management of the building he lives in in Al Mankhool, as well as running nearly 80 miles around his compound so far.

“I have managed to have a good routine in quarantine, and it has helped me become stronger and fitter,” he said.

“In the morning, I have online schooling, and have done eight online university courses already.

“I have done a lot of forensic psychology, and also a lot of stuff related to cricket, like sports mindset and mental toughness. That will help me in my cricket as well.

“And in the evenings I have been doing a lot. I have run 79 miles so far since the start of quarantine – just around my compound, not going too far.

“I’m pushing myself to be the best I can be.”