For Rajasthan Royals, Riyan Parag finds the right gear in IPL 2024 | Cricket - Hindustan Times

For Rajasthan Royals, Riyan Parag finds the right gear in IPL 2024

By, New Delhi
Mar 29, 2024 08:19 PM IST

After two poor seasons, the right-hander is finally showing a glimpse of his real talent

In an age where talented young cricketers are monitored at every step, trained to deliver drab cliches in media interactions and instructed to sanitise their social media accounts, Riyan Parag speaks his mind, hits back at online trolls and celebrates as he wishes to. You can perhaps be excused for doing the latter when you have the currency of runs and wickets, but Parag’s innate confidence seemed to border on arrogance and even delusion because he hadn’t backed it up with numbers.

Rajasthan Royals' Riyan Parag celebrates his fifty during the match against Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League 2024, at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Thursday(ANI)
Rajasthan Royals' Riyan Parag celebrates his fifty during the match against Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League 2024, at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Thursday(ANI)

To be sure, the middle-order batter's record in the IPL hadn’t merited much leeway. In 54 matches across five seasons till 2023, he had tallied 600 runs at an average of 16.21 and a strike rate of 123.96 with two fifties. And yet, Parag was unabashed in celebrating the odd high, irking his detractors even more in the process.

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Parag’s personality hasn’t changed. As his pinned post on X says, “You do you who cares what they think.”

ALSO READ: 'Emotional' Riyan Parag fights back tears after fiery knock vs DC, reveals he was bedridden, 'on painkillers' for 3 days

What has changed though is his output with the bat. Two games into the 2024 edition, there’s already a sense that Parag, leaner and hungrier, means business with his performances on the field. In RR’s opening match against Lucknow Super Giants, he scored 43 and stitched together a crucial 93-run partnership with skipper Sanju Samson. Former India batter Robin Uthappa’s reaction to the knock was revealing of the popular perception about Parag. “It is good to see Riyan doing well. Earlier he used to talk more on X and do less. This time he is finally letting his bat talk,” Uthappa, who played for RR in IPL 2020, said on JioCinema.

Against Delhi Capitals in Jaipur on Thursday, Parag built on it by producing a match-winning 84 not out off 45 balls.

Both these knocks have come at No.4, a promotion in the batting order that’s come on the back of a prolific domestic season for Assam. He was the highest run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with 510 runs in 10 innings including seven consecutive fifties as Assam reached the semi-finals. In the Ranji Trophy, he was his team’s best batter with 378 runs in six innings at an average of 75.6.

It suggests that Parag is maturing and gradually realising the enormous talent that saw him play the 2018 U-19 World Cup for India at the age of 16. That Parag is only 22 needs underlining, for the spotlight over the past five years can make us forget that he’s still very much in the infancy of his career. Credit is due to the RR management, which has nurtured Parag despite the torrent of criticism that has come his way. Just like Yashasvi Jaiswal and Dhruv Jurel, Parag has spent many sessions at the RR academy in Talegaon fine-tuning his skills under the watch of director of cricket, Zubin Bharucha.

In a ruthless environment where results are paramount for these IPL franchises, Parag could have been easily discarded. Instead, RR have chosen to give him greater responsibility this year by pushing him up, allowing Parag a bit more time to weigh the situation before going for his shots.

That was the most impressive aspect of Parag’s knock against Delhi. When R Ashwin was clearing the boundary after being sent in as a pinch-hitter at 36/3, Parag may have been previously tempted perhaps to try and match his batting partner. He was mature enough on this occasion to rein himself in at the start and hit the accelerator only when Ashwin departed after a quickfire 29.

And once Parag chooses to change gears, he has all the shots expected of a batter who carries the ambition to play for India across formats. From pulling Kuldeep Yadav over midwicket for a six to belting Anrich Nortje over cover for the same result, there was no pocket of the outfield that he didn’t access.

The revelation by Parag at the post-match presentation that he was unwell in recent days means the innings should be held in even greater regard. “I know what my ability is and I never let that change — irrespective of whether I perform or not. A lot to do with the domestic season, where I scored a lot of runs. Someone in the top four has to take it deep. First match, Sanju bhaiya did it, today I did it. I had to work very hard. I was on bed on the last three days. I could manage it today,” he said.

What Parag has never lacked is absolute conviction in his ability. “I’m going to play for the country sooner or later, that belief is always there. No one can take that away from me. I’m fixated on that,” he had said in an interview in January.

If he keeps playing these knocks, his belief about playing for India may soon become reality.

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    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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