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Match Analysis

Dhruv Jurel manifests his dream scenario

In Ranchi, in conditions that left him with a narrow range of options, he batted out of his skin to bring India back into the Test

When Dhruv Jurel made his IPL debut last April, it was clear he was a player of serious ability even before he had faced a ball.
Rajasthan Royals had Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler in their side, and yet had not just picked this other wicketkeeper in a specialist batting role but picked him as an Impact Player, and sent him in ahead of Jason Holder.
They sent Jurel in with 74 needed off 30 balls. They sent him in when he had only played three previous T20 games and made just one double-figure score, a run-a-ball 23.
Likewise, when the national selectors picked Jurel in the India A squad for a tour of South Africa in December, they did so despite his only having played 12 first-class games, and scored just one hundred, a double against a newly promoted Nagaland team that would end that season rock-bottom of its group.
Two games against South Africa A and one Ranji Trophy match later, Jurel was in India's Test squad.
Neither Royals, India A nor India held Jurel's inexperience against him. Sometimes, a player just looks the part.
In that debut IPL game, Jurel made an unbeaten 15-ball 32 that brought Royals to within one hit of their target. He walked in and looked like he belonged.
He's done the same thing now in Test cricket. The 46 he made last week in Rajkot was a teaser. It gave you a glimpse of his compact, no-movements-wasted style, his minimalistic way of defending fast bowlers, letting the ball come to him and dropping his bat precisely into line, and that confident, elbows-out strut down the pitch to flick away a bit of loose turf.
An excellent first impression, but he had not been asked to bat out of his skin. It was a solid innings that improved a good first-innings position in good batting conditions.
Everything was different on Saturday in Ranchi.
England had made 353. India were 161 for 5, which soon became 171 for 6, which soon became 177 for 7. Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley were causing all kinds of problems on a cracked pitch that may well have been on crack, where every ball came with the threat that it could shoot through at ankle height.
The ball that shot through could get you out, but so could the ball that didn't shoot through. Jurel came in when India lost Ravindra Jadeja, who seemed so conscious about the threat of low bounce that he stretched all the way forward to a ball that may have pitched short of a good length, and ended up on his back knee when he popped a catch to short leg.
And even if the ball didn't get you, you would probably struggle to score off it. Unless the bowler bowled a rank long-hop, no ball was short enough to safely address with a horizontal bat. Sweeping from the line of the stumps was out of the question too. Scoring square of the wicket, basically, came with huge risks.
This was nothing like Rajkot last week, never mind Guwahati in a pink kit.
For Jurel, though, it was just another cricketing situation, just another problem to solve. When it was put to him at his end-of-day press conference that he was a naturally aggressive player who had shown a different side to his game, he was having none of it.
"There's no such thing as naturally aggressive," he said. "You know what the IPL demands. When you go in with 15 balls remaining and 35-40 required, you can't defend, can you? The situation here was to bat long, so I couldn't have done that by hitting out. It's a risk. So it was just about spending as much time at the wicket as possible, and I did it."
He came here with so little first-class experience, though. Surely he hadn't experienced a situation like this before?
"I'm a big believer in visualisation and manifestation," he said. "Whatever match comes, I start preparing one or two weeks before it. I study [the opposition's] bowling line-up - who will be bowling, how can I play them, picturing the full scenario, and that helps me a lot… I watch their videos, [and try to figure out] where my areas are, where they bowl, where I can take them on."
Here in Ranchi, the conditions left him with a narrow range of options.
"From what I had seen, this was a low-bounce kind of wicket," he said. "Obviously that shuts out square-of-the-wicket runs. The more I play straight, with the full face, the better it is for me. It was staying low, and I put that in my subconscious mind so I could be ready for it, and play straight as much as possible. [Even the big shots] I hit, I hit them straight."
This was clear enough even to the reasonably cricket-savvy viewer. But Jurel went into a fraught situation and put these plans into action, in a manner that appeared utterly natural.
Jurel pared down the range of strokes he could play, but he didn't hold back when he got the chance to play them. He was on 2 when Shoaib Bashir landed one a touch too full, within his hitting arc, with mid-on and midwicket up, and he launched it in a clean arc to the wide long-on boundary. On 19, he sensed a chance to advance at Hartley, and got to the pitch of the ball to pump him straight and high for six.
Straight-bat hits down the ground would fetch Jurel five of his first seven boundaries. Four of them came during his eighth-wicket partnership of 76 with Kuldeep Yadav; the only other one he hit in that phase was a pulled six off a genuine long-hop from Hartley.
As long as Kuldeep was at the crease, Jurel took no chances. England retreated a little against him with their fields, particularly at the start of the third morning, with no short midwicket or short cover to cut off the single, and he got off strike at every opportunity. Jurel trusted Kuldeep's defence, and Kuldeep defended excellently: by the end of it, Kuldeep had faced 131 balls of the partnership to Jurel's 71, scoring 28 runs to Jurel's 38.
When Kuldeep departed with India trailing by 100, Jurel broadened the range of shots he was willing to play. He swept Hartley over square leg, though still only off a ball angling down leg, to go from 55 to 59. Then he stepped out to Bashir and looked to whip him over short midwicket, into the gap between long-on and deep midwicket. He succeeded, but only just, the ball bursting through Ollie Robinson's hands on its way.
When Jurel was on 80, Hartley bowled with every fielder apart from slip back on the boundary. Taking a chance off a fractionally short ball, he swatted it for six, hitting it just beyond the reach of deep midwicket.
Jurel's selectiveness about when to attack, and his full commitment to attack during those moments, was remarkable for a batter so new to Test cricket. And in between, he looked utterly assured in defence, moving precisely and unhurriedly into sound positions ball after ball. By the end of his innings, he had faced 149 balls and played only 11 false shots. On this pitch. While going at a strike rate of 60.40.
Jurel got to 90 before anyone really reminded him that this was still a tricky pitch to bat on, with Hartley turning one across the face of his defensive bat to hit the top of off. A terrific ball to end a terrific innings, a ball like a stone dropped in a placid lake, bringing a brief ripple of emotion to Jurel's countenance.
Hours later, with India's bowlers having significantly extended the fightback he had begun, he showed no sign of any lingering disappointment at missing out on a hundred.
"To tell you the truth, there is absolutely no regret," he said. "It's my first Test series. The only desperation I have is to lift the trophy with my hands, because playing Test cricket has been a huge dream since my childhood."
He's living the dream now, and how.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo