Four months after suffering a serious injury during his IPL trial, Yodhin Punja has opened up on his setback as he aims to step up his fitness and win a spot in next month’s UAE Under-19 squad for their Asia Cup qualifiers.
The 18-year-old fast-bowler, who studies at Claremont Senior School in England on a cricket scholarship, has yet to play a single match after picking up an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury following a delivery to Chris Gayle during a trial with Royal Challengers Bangalore in India in March.
He later learnt he would be out for up to five months which not only ruled him out of the entire English season but also saw his IPL dream over.
“I managed to get myself a IPL trial for RCB after one of their coaches was impressed with my CV,” said Punja.
“I warmed up for the trial in Bangalore and was going to bowl to Chris Gayle. The pitch was really hard and on my first delivery, my landing foot mislanded and tore my ACL on my left leg.”
Punja then flew to UAE three days later to undergo surgery in Dubai. Although disappointed, he refused to dwell on the setback and instead vowed to come back strongly.
“Initially, it was quite a shock because you don’t get such opportunities every day,” he said.
“Mentally, I’ve always been quite strong and as a fast-bowler, it’s not a secret that it’s a very injury-prone thing to do. As well as the quality, you have to be a little creative to be a fast-bowler. It’s something that I just wanted to bounce back from quickly.”
The injury also saw him miss out on playing in the Sussex Second XI’s having initially caught the eye of their coaches.
Yet, his eagerness to put his disappointment behind him saw his rehabilitation in England go smoothly before answering a call from the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) whether he would consider joining the training camp for the UAE’s U-19 Asia Cup qualifiers in October.
“By the time I left England four weeks ago, I was batting and sort of bowling but not fully. I was doing my normal activities really easily,” explains Punja. “I told Andy (Russell, ECB national development manager), of my situation and they have been really committed.
“The physiotherapies – UAE’s Asif Ijaz and Sunil Jaymurthy at NMC Abu Dhabi, have been of huge importance in my recovery and I’m now 80-per-cent fit.”
While he remains hopeful of making the final cut, Punja insists it would be an honour to represent the UAE again. “The ECB’s support has been great and hopefully I can make the squad and qualify for the Asia Cup.”
Having been named Man of the Series in the triumphant Netherlands tour last week, UAE batsman Muhammad Usman insists there’s “plenty of more runs to come” from him.
The 31-year-old was the UAE’s top-scorer with tallies of 57no, 42no and 32 as the tourists won the three-match 50-over series 2-1 in Amsterdam – their first on European soil.
Usman had stiff competition for the top personal accolade with skipper Rohan Mustafa (five wickets and 100 runs) and Amjad Javed (five wickets) all impressing while medium pacer Logan van Beek (10 scalps) pressed his case.
Now having seen his feats recognised, the Lahore-born cricketer is adamant this is just the start and confident he can build on this personal achievement in the future.
“Yes, of course for me this is just beginning,” he said. “I still think that I have to do more for the UAE national cricket so that we can win more games in the future. This is just the beginning and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come from me as we go on.
“For me, it was a great feeling for me, my team and my captain (Rohan Mustafa) to have been part of the squad that won a series for the first time in Europe.
“To have won the Man of the Series award is even more special.”
Like the majority of the 14-man squad that travelled to the Dutch capital, Usman was facing the conditions for the first time.
No match practice prior to the series did not impact the UAE as they continued their resurgence under head coach Dougie Brown, who has now won 10 of his 13 matches in charge since coming on board as interim in February.
Prior to their tour Brown played down the favourites tags despite achieving series wins over Papua New Guinea and Oman in March and April, with the former England and Scotland international challenging his troops to adapt to unfamiliar conditions quickly.
Usman believes the team had no such problem settling in and lauded Brown and the coaching staff for the efforts put in at their indoor training sessions at the ICC Academy in Dubai.
“It was a very good series and in fact I would like to say thank you to the coaching staff as they knew what type of conditions we would be facing in Netherlands,” said Usman, who made his UAE debut in December 2015 against the England Lions.
“So we worked in pretty much the same conditions in the nets at the ICC Academy for around one month and I think that was the key for me scoring big runs.”
He added: “The first game where I scored an unbeaten 58 was very important. The conditions were perfect for bowlers as it was seaming and swinging around and was not easy to play the shots. I knew if I spent time at the crease, a big score would eventually come.”
Shaiman Anwar took four wickets while Rameez Shahzad made the Netherlands pay as the UAE sealed a convincing five-wicket win to take an unassailable 2-0 series lead yesterday.
Chasing a competitive target of 240 in 50 overs, Shahzad was dropped at 14 by Tobias Visee with the game at 140-3.
That ultimately proved to be costly as Shahzad went on to score 43 but more crucially put on a 52-run stand with Muhammed Usman.
That paved the way for Usman (42no) and Adnan Mufti (20no) to see the side home and clinch a third consecutive series victory.
The result means the side has now won 10 matches in 12 games under head coach Dougie Brown, who oversaw the series wins against Papua New Guinea and Oman as interim earlier this year.
— UAE Cricket Official (@EmiratesCricket) July 19, 2017
His troops can seal a series whitewash when the two nations meet again for the final time today.
Earlier, batsman Anwar was among the unlikely wicket-takers for the UAE as the vice-captain claimed four wickets with the Netherlands restricted to 239-9.
Top-scorer Ben Cooper (47) was among Anwar’s victims as the hosts failed to accelerate after being in a good position at 173-3.
In their chase, Rohan Mustafa scored a run-a-ball 58 to set the ball rolling, while Chirag Suri, who was recalled to the starting 11 in place of opener Mohammed Qasim was out for 23 runs.