IPL: Is a Riyan Parag 2.0 in the making for Rajasthan Royals this year?

A promotion to number four in the batting order, solid domestic season seems to have done wonders for his confidence

Riyan Parag on reaching his half-century in Jaipur on 28 March (photo: @rajasthanroyals/X)
Riyan Parag on reaching his half-century in Jaipur on 28 March (photo: @rajasthanroyals/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

When a 17-year-old Riyan Parag was roped in by Rajasthan Royals six years back, the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal or Dhruv Jurel were nowhere in sight.

With his peers getting a headstart in international cricket already, it may not be too far-fetched to think that the new-found hunger and maturity in the precocious Assam youngster this season can be due to the so called healthy competition.

It may be still presumptious to call him Riyan Parag 2.0 on the basis of two back-to-back matchwinning knocks in IPL 2024, but the hunger and the sense of responsibility at the new No.4 batting spot has certainly made a difference. The unbeaten 84 off 45 balls, including 25 runs in the final over from Delhi Capitals’ express bowler Anrich Nortje, showed the way he backed his abilities and made the Player of the Match choice a no-brainer on Thursday, 28 March.

 A member of the Under-19 World Cup winning team in 2018, which spawned the likes of Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw, Parag made a promising beginning with the Royals – chipping with occasional cameos lower down the order and often providing entertainment value for the fans by breaking into the traditional Bihu dance of Assam.  However, despite the team management showing inordinate faith in him, Parag could never quite grab the opportunities with both hands – the last two seasons being the most unproductive of them all.

The transformation in Parag, who is now only 22, has not gone unnoticed - though he has to build on the solid start to take it to the next level. He has got the example of Jaiswal in front of him who piled up 625 runs last season to end up fifth among the top rungetters of IPL 2023.

‘’It is good to see Riyan Parag doing well in the first match. Earlier he used to talk more on X and do less. This time he is finally letting his bat talk,’’ Robin Uthappa, former Royals batter and international, said during a TV chat show.

How did Parag, who created a somewhat harmful perception of himself being more of the Gen-X franchise cricketer who could not be considered for bigger roles, change himself? The sense of a renewed focus was clear when in the 2023-24 domestic season, he scored 354 runs in the Deodhar Trophy zonal 50-over tournament to top the batting charts at an average of 88.50. He then took it to a different level in Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, hitting 510 runs in 10 matches at an average of 85 and strike rate of 182 as he led Assam to a semi-final finish.

A recent conversation with Zubin Barucha, the director of High Performance Centre of the franchise in Nagpur, revealed Parag had worked incredibly hard during the off season – working hard on his fitness and batting.  ‘’I always had the shots but I realised that I need to practice a lot. Cricket is all about muscle memory. So I try to be more repetitive in practice and try to implement that in game situation,’’ the cricketer said in an interview to The Hindu in January, breaking down his preparation in simple terms.

The role of Kumar Sangakkara, their director of cricket who possibly masterminded the move to promote him in the batting order, is also longer a secret. Sanju Samson, the Royals captain who has seen the growth of Parag, had a brotherly advice on offer: ‘’Riyan has been a big name for the last 3-4 years. Each and everyone, everywhere I go, in Kerala, they ask me, when is he going to come good? touchwood, this is the season. But this is just the start. He has to keep his head down and focus on each and every game. I think he really has a lot to give to Indian cricket,’’ the keeper-batter said.

 Hope Parag is listening!

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