Dhruv Jurel: the Impact Player who waited a while to make an impact

He overcame an accident when he was five years old and resistance to playing cricket at home to make it to the IPL

When 22-year-old Dhruv Jurel walked out to bat as an Impact Player in his debut IPL game, there would certainly have been questions over why Rajasthan Royals had sent him in ahead of a seasoned international like Jason Holder.
Royals needed 74 off 30 balls at the time against Punjab Kings and he had only three T20s worth of experience . They eventually fell five runs short with Jurel unbeaten on 32 off 15 balls, an innings full of eye-catching stroke play. It was his first time in the raucous, high-pressure finish of an IPL thriller, but he wasn't fazed by the environment.
"When I went to bat, I was not nervous at all because I had seen those scenarios, having been on the bench last year. The crowd, people cheering loudly, the opposition sledging, the hype, all the things," Jurel tells ESPNcricinfo. "It wasn't challenging for me. This is my second year for Rajasthan, and I just wanted to get one chance."
At every step of his cricketing journey, Jurel has yearned for that chance and made it count. He racked up big runs during Uttar Pradesh's title-winning run in the 2018-19 Cooch Behar Trophy; he led India Under-19 to victory at the 2019 Asia Cup; and he scored 249 in just his sixth first-class game.
Jurel's journey to the IPL has not been straightforward. He was five years old when his left leg came under the tyre of a bus in Agra and required plastic surgery. He wanted to join the Indian Army, much like his father Nem Singh Jurel, a Kargil war veteran, before cricket became his ambition.
"Mere father army me the, aur wo kabhi support karte hi nahi the ki main cricket khelun. [My father was in the Army and he never really supported me playing cricket.] He wanted me to get a government job, a secure job," Jurel says. "One day, he was reading the newspaper and suddenly told me, 'There is a cricketer that goes by the same name as you, and he has scored these many runs.' I got scared and did not know how to tell him this cricketer was me. I was just scared that he might ask me to leave cricket."
Jurel knew cricket was his future soon enough, but when he wanted a kit at the age of 14, his father asked him to focus on his studies. His mother sold off a gold chain to fulfil her son's wishes.
"I asked my father to buy me a Kashmir willow bat, around INR 1500-2000. Even that was expensive, but my father bought the bat. But when it came to the entire kitbag, that was too expensive.
"I locked myself in the bathroom and told him I would run off if he didn't get me the cricket kit. This made my mother emotional and she gave her gold chain to my father and asked him to sell it and get me the kit. At that time, I got very excited but when I matured, I realised how big that sacrifice was on their part."
Jurel made rapid strides in age-group cricket in Agra, but there was limited scope for him to improve. He decided to move to Noida on the ourskirts of Delhi and enrolled at Phoolchand Sharma's Wonders Cricket Club. He initially shuttled between Noida and Agra, but once the travelling got hectic, Jurel shifted base with his mother.
There was a time when for two years, between 2015 and 2017, Jurel did not play competitive cricket. Then came UPCA's Vaibhav Memorial tournament in Meerut in 2017, which he says was a life-changing one. With the selectors watching, 16-year old Jurel smashed a 38-ball 87 in the final, leading his side to the title.
"That was a life-changing match for me at the Vaibhav Memorial," Jurel recalls with a smile. "I was not getting matches, but I was sent up the order in the final. From there I went to play for the state, then I made a comeback."
Jurel was vice-captain at the 2020 Under-19 World Cup in South Africa, where India finished runners-up. But Covid-19 struck soon after and cricket took a backseat again. Jurel did not enter the IPL 2020 auction, where his U-19 team-mates Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ravi Bishnoi and Kartik Tyagi went for big money, and was unsold when he did enter the auction in 2021.
Did that leave Jurel frustrated? Maybe. But he focused on getting fitter and built a home gym with the money he had earned at the U-19 World Cup. In 2022, Jurel was picked up by Royals at base price. A wicketkeeper-batter, he is a big AB de Villiers fan, and idolises MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
"It was a surreal feeling when I first met them," Jurel says. "I haven't spoken to them, I just got photos clicked. But that moment was very special. I have been watching these guys since I was a kid, and now they are standing next to me."
Now that the debut game is out of the way, what next for Jurel? "I am just taking it day by day. Whenever I think too much, I stress a lot. I want to do the right things and keep my basics clear."

Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo