Harshit-Vaibhav: Different skills, contrasting personalities deliver big time for KKR

Harshit Rana and Vaibhav Arora (PC: KKR)

Before the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 began, the Kolkata Knight Riders stole the spotlight during the auction by acquiring Australian pacer Mitchell Starc for a record-breaking Rs 24.75 crore. Naturally, there was a lot of hype and focus on Starc when he joined the Knights in Kolkata for the season. Expectations were high given his tremendous record for Australia and his previous franchise, Royal Challengers Bengaluru, in IPL 2014 and 2015, where he took 14 and 20 wickets respectively. Though he was returning to the IPL after nine years, his pedigree and star power attracted significant media and fan attention. Starc won the Player of the Match awards in both Qualifier 1 and the Final against SunRisers Hyderabad. However, in terms of consistency, it was two uncapped Indian pacers, Harshit Rana and Vaibhav Arora, who silently delivered for the Knights, helping them lift their third IPL title.

When Starc was bleeding runs, often in the 40s and 50s in his three or four overs, it was Harshit and Vaibhav who consistently delivered for Kolkata. Both had different roles but complemented each other brilliantly despite not bowling in tandem much.

Vaibhav was responsible for sharing the new ball with Starc due to his ability to swing the ball significantly, while Harshit specialized in middle and death overs. Unlike Starc, both Harshit and Vaibhav were economical buys for KKR at Rs 20 lakh each. By the end of the season, their value seemed worth its weight in gold. KKR was at their devastating best in the powerplay, much credit going to how Starc and Vaibhav worked with the new ball. Notably, Starc kicked in consistent powerplay wickets in the second phase of IPL.

The Knights had the joint-most powerplay wickets (with Rajasthan Royals) in IPL 2024, with the Aussie taking 11 and Vaibhav nine. Starc finished the season with 17 wickets, while Vaibhav took 11. While Starc’s delivery to Abhishek Sharma was talked about as the ‘ball of the tournament,’ Vaibhav’s delivery to clean up Shai Hope also deserves mention. Harshit Rana was a different beast for KKR, finishing with 19 wickets in the tournament, including a memorable wicket-maiden in the finale.

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Vaibhav Arora vs DC (PC: X)

“We had a hugely talented bowling group this season with youngsters like Harshit Rana, Vaibhav Arora, and Chetan Sakariya. Harshit had some good matches this season and has bowled in tough situations. He’s only going to improve from a season like this,” Starc said in the final post-match press conference. “Harshit is learning what his skills are capable of throughout this IPL. He seems pretty confident in his abilities.”

The Harshit-Vaibhav pair cut contrasting figures in their personalities and skill sets. Harshit is quick with a deceptive slower ball, effective at different stages of the game, while Vaibhav was primarily used as a powerplay wicket-taker by KKR. Personality-wise, Harshit is a typical Delhi-boy, flamboyant and aggressive on the field, while Vaibhav is introverted and celebrates his wickets with passion. This is the magic of IPL, which brings together diverse players to create a title-winning team. Harshit faced issues with his celebrations, especially his trademark ‘flying kiss,’ which attracted a fine and a one-match ban. In contrast, Vaibhav quietly went about his job, allowing others to bask in the limelight.

“This season will be a big learning experience for Harshit. The way he has bowled is so good to see. I am particularly impressed with how he has bowled in the middle and death overs. His slower ball is only going to improve. When you win a trophy, your confidence goes to a different level,” said Sharavan Kumar, Harshit’s childhood coach, to RevSportz.

Harshit Rana for KKR (PC: KKR/X)

“I had tears in my eyes. It was incredible to see Vaibhav dismiss a World Cup winner for a golden duck in an IPL final. He has been great with the new ball, but I would like to see him bowl with more confidence at the death. In previous seasons, he didn’t get regular game time, but I am thankful to the KKR management for giving him consistent chances this IPL, and he delivered. This is a dream come true for all of us. I am proud of him, but this is just the beginning,” said Ravi Verma, Vaibhav’s coach.

A lot of credit goes to bowling coach Bharat Arun for spending considerable time with these two youngsters during practice sessions and team meetings. “These two boys have improved immensely under Bharat (Arun). He has done that with the Indian team. He has turned Siraj’s career around. Not to forget Bumrah and Shami as well,” former India head coach Ravi Shastri said on air.

While it remains to be seen whether KKR can keep their Indian duo of Harshit and Vaibhav for the upcoming seasons, considering the IPL mega auction is to take place sometime in late December, regardless of their future with the franchise, both Harshit and Vaibhav, along with KKR, will remember their contributions in IPL 2024. They have etched their names in the history books.

Also Read: “Gautam Gambhir has all the credentials to be India’s head coach” – B Arun


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