From Rinku Singh to Dhruv Jurel: Players from the Heartland Shine for UP

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Cricketers hailing from Uttar Pradesh are demonstrating both skill and a strong desire to excel on the highest stage.

In 1971, when India clinched their first Test series victory in England, six out of the eleven players were from Bombay. However, the dominance of Bombay in Indian cricket remained unchallenged until the late 1970s and 1980s, when a group of players from northern India started emerging. This shift in dynamics was evident during the 1983 World Cup, where five players in the team, including captain Kapil Dev, hailed from the northern region.

During the 1990s, India’s bowling lineup boasted three engineers from Bangalore: Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, and Anil Kumble. Concurrently, Rahul Dravid, also from Bangalore, was solidifying his role as a key component in the batting lineup.

Entering the mid-2000s, MS Dhoni burst onto the national stage from Ranchi, empowering cricketers from small towns and democratizing the game like never before. This shift seemed to diminish the dominance of any particular region in the composition of the Indian team, as players began emerging from diverse environments and backgrounds.

Currently, there is a notable surge of talent emerging from Uttar Pradesh, deserving of our attention.

In the ongoing series against England, particularly in the Ranchi Test, Kuldeep Yadav and Dhruv Jurel emerged as the key contributors to India’s victory. Yadav, hailing from Kanpur, exemplifies the deceptive and street-smart style of wrist spin synonymous with his bustling city. On the other hand, Jurel, who comes from Agra, has overcome familial expectations rooted in military service, as his father, a Kargil war veteran, initially desired. Despite Agra’s lack of cricketing infrastructure, Jurel honed his skills under coach Parvendra Yadav before relocating to Noida in pursuit of better opportunities and facilities.

“Dhruv is so sincere, and I found him open to gaining knowledge and putting it into practice,” says Sunil Joshi, the coach of Uttar Pradesh in domestic cricket. “That shows his hunger. Even though he didn’t play the first two Tests, we were chatting that he should be prepared to grab the opportunity with both hands.”

Rinku Singh has been attracting attention in white-ball cricket following a standout IPL season with Kolkata Knight Riders in 2023. His impressive performances continued in international cricket, notably during the white-ball leg of the tour of South Africa in December. Singh’s journey from a tough childhood marked by poverty resonates with the struggles faced by numerous youngsters in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states.

“When I was just starting out and had yet to play proper cricket, I was asked to join my brother for a job. I got a job of sweeping and mopping in a coaching centre. I refused because I didn’t like the work,” Rinku had said in a video shared by KKR.

Many individuals in search of a better life amidst financial constraints opt to relocate. Yashasvi Jaiswal, who excelled in the Test series against England with over 600 runs, exemplifies this. Born in Bhadohi district in 2001, Jaiswal’s cricketing aspirations were ignited when he moved to Mumbai at the age of 10. Similarly, Sarfaraz Khan, originally from UP, found success after moving to Mumbai. Mohammed Shami’s talent with the ball only gained recognition in Bengal, contrasting with his experiences in UP.

In addition to the top-tier players, UP boasts a talented pool including Saurabh Kumar, Shivam Mavi, Yash Dayal, Priyam Garg, Sameer Rizvi, and Mohsin Khan, all striving to reach the highest level. According to Joshi, they all hail from humble backgrounds and possess immense determination.

Given its significant population share of 16.5% in India, UP has the potential to consistently contribute to Indian cricket. Furthermore, the presence of a team like Lucknow Super Giants in the Indian Premier League adds to the state’s cricketing identity and aspirations.

“Hamare ladko main bhook hai kuch karne ka bus inko mauka chaiye (Our boys have that hunger to do something, and they only need an opportunity),” said Mohammad Kaif, who played 125 ODIs and 13 Tests for India and scored most of his 10,000-plus first-class runs for UP.

Apart from Mohammad Kaif, other players from the heartland who have made significant contributions to Indian cricket since the turn of the century include RP Singh, Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Their diverse geographic origins indicate that talent in Uttar Pradesh isn’t limited to one or two specific centers, unlike many other states.

“There are good coaches in UP now and a lot of good academies have also opened up. There was a system of sports hostels earlier,” says Kuldeep’s coach, Kapil Pandey. “Players in UP are produced from Kanpur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Meerut, Moradabad and everywhere else. And they are being recognised now more than ever.”

Raina feels more can be done though. “All our talents come from modest backgrounds, so we need to have someone from UP who can understand their feelings and hardships to guide them. That system is lacking right now,” says Raina.

Despite the considerable talent pool in the region, Uttar Pradesh’s cricketing output has not been as robust, highlighted by their sole Ranji Trophy triumph in 2005/06. Joshi aims to rectify this as a coach. “I am hoping that UP can win the Ranji Trophy in my tenure. We are scouting for more talent as an association. With five of our players representing India or India A now, the core of the team wasn’t there. I have to rely on the next bunch of players.”

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