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.”