Dhruv Jurel fills India’s void with skill and diligence to help see off England

<span>Dhruv Jurel runs out Ben Duckett during the third Test between India and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> in Rajkot.</span><span>Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images</span>

Of all the many cherries India can take from pocketing the Test series against England at Ranchi – Ravichandran Ashwin’s magical performance with the new ball, more important runs for young guns Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill – perhaps the biggest and rosiest was the performance of new wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel.

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Ever since the irrepressible Rishabh Pant was badly injured in a car accident in December 2022, India have been searching for a ready-made replacement without success. They tried Ishan Kishan for a couple of Tests against West Indies. They experimented with KL Rahul, who played a couple of Tests against South Africa without doing much wrong until coach Rahul Dravid decided that it was a task too big for him to keep wicket against Bazball on Indian pitches. That left KS Bharat, who played in all five Tests against Australia at the beginning of 2023 with the gloves, until he too was discarded after the second Test at Visakhapatnam.

And so to Jurel. The vice-captain of India’s Under-19 team – alongside player of the tournament Jaiswal – that reached the World Cup final in February 2020, he gained further attention with his hitting at the death for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League, as well as with performances for Uttar Pradesh. The diligence of his batting at Ranchi came as no surprise to director of the Royals, Zuran Bharucha, who reported that in preparation for his Test debut, Jurel came to the high performance centre and batted for 140 overs in a day.

His innings at Rajkot slipped slightly under the radar because of the dancing 62 made by fellow debutant Sarfaraz Khan, but it was an assured 46, including three effortless sixes, and he was even better in the fourth Test. There, a game-changing 90 in the first innings, much of it alongside Kuldeep Yadav in a 76-run stand for the eighth wicket, took India from a perilous position to within touching distance of England. His arrival at the crease during India’s second-innings wobble, after Shoaib Bashir had struck twice after lunch, was like a comforting hand on the shoulder.

He was able to keep Gill company, and the score ticking over, taking India over the line with a punt behind square for two off Tom Hartley, completing an unbroken 72-run stand. And he finished the day becoming only the sixth Indian wicketkeeper in history to win a player of the match award in a Test – Pant has done it twice – alongside purring praise for his footwork from Sachin Tendulkar, and for his speed of thought and skill behind the stumps, especially in the run out of Ben Duckett in Rajkot.

Jurel’s is another story of hard knocks. Like Jaiswal, who moved to Mumbai and lived alongside groundsmen in a tent on the Azad Maidan, selling pani puri in his spare time to earn his lot, the 23-year-old comes from a modest background. He had to have plastic surgery when his left leg was trapped under a bus tyre at the age of five. Then, when he was 14, his dad took out a loan to buy him a 2000 rupee (£20) Kashmir willow bat. When he then also asked for a kit bag, his dad told him to forget the cricket and concentrate on his studies. Jurel locked himself in the bathroom and wept, so his mother then pawned her only gold necklace for the money. When still a young teenager, he left his home in Agra and went to train at a cricket academy in Noida, on Delhi’s outskirts, all the sacrifices now worthwhile.

Meanwhile, good news at last for Pant, who has been posting bouncy videos on social media. Delhi Capitals announced that he would be available for the 2024 IPL, subject to an all-clear from the BCCI. Pant is due to lead the side, but will play as a specialist batter – at least to start with. In the words of Ricky Ponting, the Delhi head coach, “Rishabh is very confident that he’s going to be right to play. In what capacity we’re not quite sure yet. But I’ll guarantee if I asked him now he’ll say, ‘I’m playing every game, I’m keeping every game and I’m batting at No 4.’ That’s just what he’s like, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”