Less than 10 days before his 23rd birthday, Dhruv Jurel got the biggest surprise of his life. He got his maiden India call-up as the BCCI selection committee led by former pacer Ajit Agarkar named him in the 16-man squad for the first two Tests against England starting January 25. Dhruv had been in decent form of late, scoring a half-century (69) for India A against South Africa A in Benoni and following that up with a 63-run knock in Uttar Pradesh’s Ranji Trophy opener against Kerala last week but despite that, an India call-up for a home Test series was not on the expected lines.
Currently in Ahmedabad, playing for India A in a two-day unofficial Test against England Lions, Dhruv, who has a first-class average of 46.47, was picked as a backup wicketkeeper in the Indian side. The uncertainty around Ishan Kishan’s availability may have promoted the selectors to turn towards the youngster. The chances of him getting an India cap are slim as KS Bharat and KL Rahul are ahead of him in the pecking order but sharing the dressing room with the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin during an important home series is certain to boost the ‘army kid’.
As Dhruv, who nearly quit cricket at the age of 14 because of financial constraints and lack of support, awaits the most glorious chapter in his cricketing career, here is a throwback to his journey full of hardships. He had spoken to Hindustan Times in June last year.
From the time he developed the maturity to understand the struggles of life, Dhruv Jurel had two objectives: He wanted to make it big in cricket but more importantly, he needed to make sure his mother’s sacrifice did not go to waste.
His father, Nem Singh Jurel, a Kargil war veteran, never wanted him to take up any sport, let alone cricket, as a career. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and join the defence forces or at worse, settle for a government job. Things came to a boil when Dhruv, then 14, threatened to run away from the house after being denied a cricket bat by his father due to financial constraints. It was Dhruv’s mother, who came to the rescue. She sold off her gold chain to arrange money for her son’s dreams.
“Us waqt toh realise nahi hua (I did not realise it then) but when I understood how big a sacrifice it was, I became more determined,” Dhruv, now a 22-year-old and one of the brightest prospects of IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals, told Hindustan Times.
Since making his IPL debut against the Punjab Kings where the right-hander nearly won RR an impossible chase – they required 74 off 30 balls when he walked in to bat at No.8 as an Impact Player – by smashing an unbeaten 32 off 15 balls, Jurel has earned plaudits from the who’s of who world cricket. The fact that he has made a name for himself as a finisher in a side that has players like Shimron Hetmyer and Jason Holder is the biggest giveaway of the talent that he possesses. But the biggest prize for Dhruv was his father’s words.
“They came to watch an IPL match in Jaipur. Papa turned towards mummy and said ‘tere sone ki chain wasool ho gayi aaj’ (Your gold chain has been repaid),” Dhruv recalled.
Nothing has ever come easy for the talented wicketkeeper-batter. But things slowly started to change. Brimming with confidence with the support from his mother, Dhruv regularly topped the run-scoring charts in junior cricket in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. In search of better opportunities, he came to Noida, a part of Delhi NCR but the regular travel from Agra to Noida was taking a toll on his mental and physical health. His mother again stepped in. She decided to shift to Noida with her son.
Dhruv’s bat continued to repay the faith and he was soon picked for India’s U19 team. He was also the vice-captain of the Indian side in the U19 World Cup in 2020 where they ended up as the runners-up.
Change of fortune and father’s support
Dhruv’s mother was not the only one making sacrifices for him. Seeing the grit, determination and passion of Dhruv, his father’s resistance gave way to indirect support. His sacrifice was of a different kind. “He heard regular taunts from my neighbours that he was ruining my life by allowing me to play cricket and all,” Dhurv said.
It was Nem Singh who backed him when it took three attempts for Dhruv to get an IPL franchise since the U19 World Cup when most of his peers – Yashavi Jaiswal, Ravi Bishnoi, and Priyam Garg had already made their debuts in the big league. “There was never any negativity. My father told me that I needed to do something different in order to stand out. I should always wait for my time.”
Impact Player rule a blessing in disguise
The time finally came when RR picked him up at his base price of ₹20 lakh in IPL 2022. But he did not get a game in the entire season as RR backed Riyan Parag. However, the situation changed after their defeat to Gujarat Titans in last year’s final. Dhruv was told by the management that he will bat at No.6 or 7 next year. “With Jaiswal, Sanju (Samson) bhaiya and Jos (Buttler) bhai, there was no space in the top-order. So Kumar Sangakkara (RR coach) sir and the management were pretty clear that are looking at me at 6 or 7 and the same was conveyed to me after last year’s final” Dhruv said.
The Impact Player rule introduced this season was a big shot in the arm for players like Dhruv. He knew he would come into the scheme of things as an Impact Player whenever they were chasing. The opportunity came in the second match of the season and such was Dhruv’s performance with the bat that he also made it to the starting XI displacing an out-of-form Riyan Parag.
Dhruv backed up his impressive debut with a couple of more impactful knocks lower down the order – an unbeaten 34 off 16 balls vs RCB and 34 off 15 against CSK. Dhruv credits the training in the off-season at the RR academy in Nagpur for the transition. “The RR coaches helped a lot. I trained for 5-6 hours a day in the RR academy. From situational practice to power-hitting everything was a regularity. I got a lot of confidence and that helped me when I finally got an opportunity to bat in the middle,” Dhruv added.
Words of encouragement from Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler
“Sanju bhaiya says not to think a lot. He told me to enjoy it as it was my first season. It gave a sense of security. He always says ‘tujhe jo karna hai kar, baki main dekh lunga’. (Do whatever you need to do, I’ll take care of the rest) He and the management have a lot of trust in my abilities.
“I also keep talking to Jos (Buttler) bhaiya. I ask him about his preparations. How he targets certain bowlers and builds his innings. I keep taking notes,” he said.