There are some who rise to the pinnacle through adversity, fighting battles on all fronts in the race to the top. And then there are some who, through privilege, get a head start in life, and go on to make the most of it. Aryan Juyal belongs to the latter section of people.
This is not to belittle the hours of practice, miles of training, and scores of sacrifices Juyal has made. The son of two doctors, he defied the norm in his family by becoming a cricketer, and showed the courage to carry out his convictions and earn a place in the India Under-19 team on the merit of his bat and wicket-keeping gloves. This is his story.
Dr Sanjay Juyal is happy to take out time from his busy schedule to speak about his son Aryan. For years he played the protective father, guiding and guarding the younger Juyal, much like their home town Haldwani guards the gateway to the Kumaon. But at a point, Aryan’s talent demanded that he leave his home town and find his feet.
“Even around age six or seven, Aryan would play straight”, remembers the senior Juyal. “When he was in third standard, he told me he was selected in the school team. At first, I thought he was joking, and spoke to his teacher to confirm it.” By the time Juyal was in class V, it was apparent that his talent needed to be taken seriously. While playing a tournament in Dehradun, 275 kilometres away, Juyal was spotted by Ravindra Negi, a coach at Abhumanya Cricket Academy.
“When I saw him, he was an aggressive, chanchal (restless), boy, who played with no fear”, says Negi. “I went to Haldwani and met his dad and invited him to our academy in Dehradun.” After speaking to Aryan and inspecting the academy, Dr Juyal enrolled his son there.
The first challenge Juyal faced in Dehradun was homesickness. While he enjoyed the time spent in sessions, the 11-year-old struggled between them, missing his parents. “So I engaged him a bit more”, said Negi. “We talked about matches, match preparation, and made his time there more interesting.” Once that barrier was overcome, Juyal settled into the residential cricket academy, which like the many boarding schools nestled in Dehradun, polished his raw talent into the finished product. Juyal started making regular appearances in the Uttar Pradesh Under-14 and Under-16 teams.
After two years at Dehradun, Juyal moved to Moradabad, where his mother’s family stayed. From there he would travel to Delhi,often staying in the capital for five days at a time. He trained at LB Shastri Cricket Club under Sanjay Bharadwaj, gaining match experience.
“In Dehradun he wouldn’t get good quality matches”, said Negi. By then, Negi had also encouraged Juyal to take up wicket-keeping. “At first he was not so keen. But I thought his batting will be helped if he does keeping. When he realised that, he started enjoying it more.”
Throughout, Juyal had to face criticism and sometimes ridicule from his own family, besides his mother and father. “In our family, all are either engineers or doctors”, said Juyal's father. “Aryan was good at studies also, he got a CGPA of 10 in his class X exams. So many people disagreed with our decision to pursue cricket.”
Ahead of his second Under-16 season though, Aryan encountered a roadblock. “He failed a medical, and was debarred from the age group”, said Negi. The Dehradun-based coach insists that Aryan fit the age category, but because he had been playing near-professionally since a young age, his bone-age X-ray told a different story.
“Those who play with a heavy workload from young age, their bones fuse”, explains Negi. With Juyal’s father being an influential doctor, they could have pressed the case ahead. But Juyal and his guardians decided to be patient, and target the Under-19 category instead.
They took the time they were afforded to train all year round, even taking advantage of what is usually the off-season. At their home in Haldwani, Juyal's father had built an indoor enclosure with one turf and one artificial wicket, and enough space for bowlers to take a full run up. “In the monsoons he would not be able to play, so now he comes here, we get other players to bowl at him, and his coaches can come,” said Dr Juyal.
The results came when Juyal made his debut in the Under-19 category for Uttar Pradesh. With 401 runs from five innings, he topped the batting charts for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy this year, and was in the top five of the Vinoo Mankad inter-zonal trophy. Those performances earned him a slot in the Challenger Trophy, where he was the fourth highest run getter with 171 runs in four innings. And when the team for the World Cup was announced, Juyal found himself on it, only the second uncapped player in the side.
For both Juyal and his father, this result is vindication of their choice to walk the path less trodden. Dr Juyal — who would even follow ball-by-ball commentary during surgery if his son was playing — says,“Now people are feeling proud and come and tell us, it was good decision.”
Juyal’s case is the archetypical example of how to use the blessing life gives you. Getting a head start is one thing. Putting in the yards that take you past the finish line is another.