AS A Kargil war veteran who served the Indian Army in the Jat regiment, Nem Singh Jurel wanted his son Dhruv to join the National Defence Academy (NDA) after finishing school. But Dhruv was too enamoured by cricket to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Nem says he doesn’t mind his son’s choice. For a reason. At 18, Dhruv, a wicket-keeper and top-order batsman, will lead India in the U-19 Youth Asia Cup in Colombo next month. Even though the boy from Agra is known for his agility behind the stumps, it’s his pyrotechnics with the bat that has coaches and selectors swooning. In recent times, the teenager has also earned the tag of being his team’s crisis-manager, fashioning wins from the direst situations, much like a certain MS Dhoni.
Dhruv was the chief architect of the U-19 team’s recent triumph over Bangladesh in the tri-nation tournament final at Hove in England. Chasing a target of 262, the colts lost two quick wickets and were in a spot of bother before Dhruv’s unbeaten 59 helped India cross the finish line. “I relish opportunities when you walk out to bat with your team in trouble… that’s the kind of challenge I look forward to,” he tells The Indian Express.
Now, his father has made peace with his son’s career choice. “It’s all about doing something for your country. I served the Army during the Kargil war, before retiring in 2008. Now, my son is also serving his country as a cricketer. Even though it’s a different field, the purpose is the same,” Singh offers.
Despite his son’s fairly seamless progression to India’s U-19 squad, Nem was initially apprehensive about Dhruv’s credentials as a cricketer. Nevertheless, seeing his son’s unwavering passion for the game, he would get him enrolled at Agra’s Springdale Academy under the tutelage of coach Parvendra Yadav. “He was barely 10 when he got admitted to Yadavji’s academy… but I was not convinced that he would make it as a cricketer,” Singh admits.
All that changed in the winter of 2015, when his 14-year-old son smashed a scarcely- believable 21-ball 100 in a local T20 match in Agra. “His coach (Yadav) called me up to congratulate me. But when I asked Dhruv about that knock, he didn’t seem too excited. He told me ‘papa, woh ground bahut chota hain’. That was the day I realised that my son could become a cricketer because there was this burning desire to excel.”
By 15, Dhruv had set his sights on playing for India. Back home in Agra, opportunities were few and far between. His coach Yadav asked his ward to try his luck in Delhi.
In 2016, with help from a friend, Dhruv came knocking at Billabong High School in Sector-34, Noida, where Phoolchand Sharma operates a bustling cricketing academy.
The shift to Noida would play a decisive role in Dhruv’s progression. “When he came to my academy three years ago, I didn’t know who he was. But he impressed me with his wicket-keeping and batting, so I decided to persist with him. Soon, he was playing in all the club tournaments in Delhi. He became a regular in Sandeep Suri as well as the Khalsa College T20 tournaments. In just 12 months, he got the exposure which he would not have got had he stayed back in Agra,” Sharma quips.
The following year, he would get picked for the Vaibhav Mishra tournament in Meerut. In the final, Jurel, batting at No.6, scored an unbeaten 36-ball 80 that helped his team win. That knock single-handedly earned him a spot in Uttar Pradesh’s U-19 squad for the 2018-19 season.
If there were doubts about him adjusting to the rigours of the four-day format of the Cooch Behar Trophy, Dhruv would quell them in his debut season itself. Stacking up 736 runs from 11 matches at an average of 61.33, which included a top score of 153 against Chhattisgarh. Hence, it was no surprise that his name cropped up when selectors sat down to pick India’s U-19 team for the 2019 season. Besides his dazzling stroke-play, Dhruv continued to be competent behind the wickets, accounting for over 50 dismissals in his debut season.
“He is a true all-rounder in the sense that he has the game to play any kind of knock and has the confidence and temperament to pull it off in the match. That’s a rare talent to have for someone so young,” Sharma gushes.
While it’s still too preposterous to hail Dhruv as the next Dhoni, a string of all-round performances as captain in the upcoming Youth Asia Cup will only reaffirm his considerable talent and enhance his reputation. Despite his son’s success on the field, father Nem Singh has just one wish: “I want my son to complete his formal education. After graduating from the Army School last year, he has taken a break to pursue cricket. I hope he gets enrolled into a college by next year.”