There’s no worse feeling in the world than attending a practice session with the knowledge that you are on the verge of being dropped. KS Bharat cut a desolate figure during India’s training at Rajkot on Tuesday as he looked on while Dhruv Jurel went through the paces with the gloves. Skipper Rohit Sharma was micro-managing the gap between Jurel, and the first and second slips, which can be replicated in the Test starting on Thursday.
A diving catch taken by the 23-year-old Jurel to his right and ahead of Sarfaraz Khan at first slip earned applause from the skipper. Given India’s inexperience in batting, they can always rethink and give Bharat one more chance. But indications are that the team management is determined to press the transition button and one among the younger lot they are willing to invest in is Uttar Pradesh wicketkeeper-batter Jurel. He also had an extended hit in the nets.
Jurel is the son of a Kargil veteran, and his father wasn’t all that keen that he pursued a career in cricket. So stubborn was the boy at 14, he locked himself in the bathroom demanding that he be allowed to buy a cricket kit. As all sweet family stories go, his mother came to the rescue despite financial constraints.
The Agra-born cricketer has already made a name in IPL with several impact innings for Rajasthan Royals. A Test debut on Thursday would give Jurel a chance to justify that early obstinacy to his parents. Only in his third year in first-class cricket, Jurel doesn’t have a mountain of runs – 790 runs at an average of 46.47 in 15 matches.
But he has passed the test at every level he has competed in. “I have seen him as the coach of UP, last year. In one match, we did not have an opener. He raised his hand and scored a big innings,” said Ajay Ratra, the former India stumper. “There’s a lot to like about Dhruv. He is supremely fit, a good wicketkeeper, and a batter who can hit his strokes when required.”
Jurel fitting the bill with the requirements of present-day Test cricket, being able to bat aggressively when required in the lower-middle order, gives him the edge. Rishabh Pant’s return from accident, at least as a long-format keeper, is still far away. Ishan Kishan has clearly drifted away from the team management’s list and has shown no inclination yet of wanting to battle it out in Ranji Trophy to win his place back. KS Bharat was always seen as a stop-gap arrangement. Although the consensus is that his keeping is technically sound, he doesn’t have a fifty to show in seven Tests. “Disappointed is a strong word (for Bharat). I would not use that. Young players take time to develop at times. As a coach, you want
players to grab the opportunities. Bharat’s keeping has been good while he’ll also agree that with his batting he could have done better,” Rahul Dravid said after the Visakhapatnam Test, giving the clearest indication yet that they were running out of patience. Ratra was also one of the India A coaches recently in South Africa when Jurel was playing. “They were very impressed with him during the intra-squad red-ball match in South Africa when all the India players were playing. His fifty was praised a lot,” he said.
Jurel got another 69 against South Africa A and a fifty very recently against England Lions. These are all matches watched closely by the selectors and the emphasis to unearth a keeper who is efficient with the bat is clear as Pant takes time to return.
But keeping to spinners of the quality of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the heat of Test cricket will be Jurel’s real Test if he plays against England. “His wicketkeeping is something I would call sound. And yes, he can keep well to spin too. In South Africa, he had kept to Axar Patel,” said Ratra. More than anything else, Jurel has the burning desire to chase his dreams. His childhood episode with his parents is proof enough.