What were you doing when you were seventeen years of age? Ransacking mall after mall pocketsful of friends denim-clad, sipping nice coffee whilst searching for Puma's multicolor shoes? Poring over boundless multitudes of books, cramming thermodynamics and electrochemistry in preparation for the grandest marathon in global education, the Indian entrance exams?
Seventeen year old Riyan Parag stares, shrugs, and condescendingly says, 'Hold my beer.'
Of course, drinking in India is confined to the age of twenty-five, but Riyan could pull the wool over the authorities' eyes. Afterall, he doesn't look like he's only seventeen, at least when he's on the field. His shoulders might've had gallons of chocolate milk to not droop in the forty degrees heat of Jaipur, and his head perhaps a chill pill. Lest he just doesn't seem seventeen. Nor does his hairdo suggest that, an innocuous fade-cut, gel-less, that contrasts with the crews and spikes that teens of today endorse.
Perhaps he doesn't like mainstream. Or perhaps he is just a different breed. Skipping preparation for a grade 10 board exam for a state level cricket match, for starters, wasn't mainstream. Nor is making 160 runs in five innings in the IPL, at the tender age of 17, pulverising the likes of Trent Boult enroute 50 (49) on Saturday waging a lone battle for Rajasthan Royals.
Farming the strike, judging singles, keeping calm under pressure. His confidence isn't debilitating, but it is self-asserting. There is a sense of composure, of assurance, of belief when he is on the crease. In a season that has resembled a chaotic barn-dance for the Rajasthan Royals, Riyan has emerged as one of the positives, a player their selectors might have on their retainees-list the next time they line up at the auction.
Riyan's father Parag Das is on cloud nine. Over a decade after his final first-class match, Das finds himself vicariously experiencing what feels almost like a second career. The bustle and flurry of dressing rooms, friendly badinage with teammates, changeroom chit-chat about Bollywood divas, failed attempts at bottle flips - he can feel it all. The only difference this time is that the feeling is second-hand, a treasured experience to get the feel of which he would make an 'n' number of comebacks.
Theirs is a humble dwelling in Guwahati you would certainly miss if you were not looking for it. The insides of the house are embellished with Das' trophy cabinets, little Riyan's PlayStation, an endless array of books scattered omnipresently, and photos of their dear son's World Cup winning moment.
Parag's name wasn't the kind in domestic cricket that sent a shiver down your spine. In 43 first-class matches, he made 1936 runs at 28.05 with fifteen fifties and a hundred to his name. In 32 List-A games he averaged 19.16 with bat and 43.82 with ball - figures he would wish could've been swapped with each other. His finest hour in state cricket came in an East Zone match, when he scored an alluring fourth-innings 118 helping his side Assam eke out a draw against Bengal. Yet he is described by his teammates as congenitally tongue-in-cheek, a tireless comedian who could light up the changeroom with Assamese wit.
His mother, Mithoo Baruah, speaks post his 47 against KKR: "It’s a privileged moment for Riyan and a very happy moment for us. He aims to play for Team India (senior team). And until then there is no rest. He has just crossed a level. He has to now work double hard to get where he wants to."
An instinctive Google search of her would reveal volumes. Herself a two-time national swimmer, Baruah is a venerated figure in Dispur sporting circles. Once in an infamous outburst, she came out lashing at the state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, for meagre grants to develop swimming in the state. The incident fetched her massive attention.
The sporting parentage helped infuse clarity of thought in Riyan. Since picking up cricket seriously in 2012, there was never a speck of doubt in his mind about his career. Fixed and constant like the northern star, he would work earnestly towards achieving his goal which was to play in the senior Indian team, "The U19 World Cup was a really high point in my career. And playing for the Rajasthan Royals was a different experience altogether", says Riyan.
"The future goal, let's say the main goal, has always been to play for the Indian team. These are small steps that lead me to my goal of representing the country. I think it's now about performing on the domestic circuit and coming back to the IPL next year with a bang."
It wasn't the little things that amused him - not dainty cupcakes, not blooming flowers, not roadside pav bhaji. His dreams were big, the kind that propels you up the beanstalk and aligns the stars in your favour. He was aiming for the firmament.
Precociousness was always Riyan's second forte. His teachers were bewildered when he decided to take part in a Ranji Trophy match days before his first board exams. However, for him there was only one option, and when he was backed by his parents to follow his heart, Riyan pulled the roof down at the domestic tournament. He made an enticing 80 in only his second appearance, a classic exhibition of temperament, where he showcased his cover driving skills to perfection. The decision payed off, as Riyan managed a CGPA (culminative grade point average) of 8.8. A major party beckoned.
Then came the U19 call up, which he jokes was thankfully not 'something like over-17', when he spiralled up the domestic ladder in a remarkable turn of events to represent his country at the ACC World Cup. His age? Sixteen. Walking down the changeroom stairway with the likes of Prithvi Shaw and Shubhman Gill, inadvertently hallucinating seeing the stunning Twin Towers, late-night conversations with childhood idol Rahul Dravid, it was an experience that changed his life.
And when Harvik Desai carved the ball over point for a World Cup winning boundary, sixteen souls that had been together for just under a month came together in joy. It was the closest feeling to oneness, as they whizzed into the ground in euphoria and embraced an ecstatic Manjot Kalra. They partied away until midnight, basking in the glory of the first major triumph of their career, going clap-clap for Kalra and Gill as they were named player of the match and player of the tournament respectively.
Among them was Riyan. "For me, everything changed after the U19 World Cup. It is a tour that transformed me as a cricketer. I can’t but thank Rahul Dravid enough for his contribution. I understood that there is a mental aspect about the game that needs to be worked upon. He (Dravid) made me mentally stronger."
When he was back in Guwahati with a World Cup medal around his neck, what was waiting for him was a grand reception. For three days since then, he was in the sports column of every local daily, as journos rallied him left and right for interviews about his Malaysian trip. His photograph became ubiquitous under the grandiose title, 'Assam boy makes it big' from everywhere to everywhere, as Riyan began experiencing a first dose of fame and name. Parag Das watched this all with a smile.
Eighteen months down the line, Riyan Parag has an IPL contract to brag about, a brand new PlayStation 4, seven Rajasthan Royals caps under his belt, and a truckload of runs. It is not the evolution of a rookie player into a seasoned cricketer, not the metamorphosis of a boy to a man; it is rather like the stars are all aligned in his favour, coalescing without fuss to make a constellation of fortune for Riyan.
So he walks out to bat at the Feroz Shah Kotla, in what is the final match of his maiden IPL season. The scoreboard reads 30-4, with the bulk of Rajasthan back in the hut. The crowd is obstreperous, vociferously cheering every wicket with all their might. They pine for a top-two finish for the home team.
But Riyan isn't dropping his shoulders. He isn't letting his chin down. He walks out to join Shreyas Gopal, who has been promoted up the order in a bid to up the scoring rate. Riyan punches gloves with his opening partner, and marks his stance.
Throughout the course of his 49-balled 50, he remains circumspect, grinding ball after ball on a rank-turner, and takes his team to a position of remark. He keeps losing batting partners, Krishnappa Gowtham playing arguably the most woeful shot of the season, but remains unperturbed and keeps running the ones and twos.
Then suddenly, Trent Boult is running in, and Riyan smashes him for back to back boundaries. With such disdain, such authority, such contempt that one of the finest pacers in the planet is smiling. Upon reaching his fifty, he lets out some heat for the first time in his IPL career, creaming his gloves into his helmet in celebration. Then the umpire misses a wide, and Riyan tries to heave the last ball of the innings for a six. Wicket. Last man out for RR, is the youngest cricketer to score an IPL half-century. Parag has his name is the history books.
"This is not the last of them, I daresay,' says Harsha Bhogle on air, 'We are going to see a lot more of this young man, is Riyan Parag.'
Perhaps the 2017 U19 World Cup team, years down the line, will be christened as the meeting point of a golden era of Indian cricketers, when likes of Shaw, Gill, Mavi, and Kalra take over the reins of Team India. If that happens, Riyan Parag will be another one of them. His rise in stature mirrors the steady rise of Assam cricket, a classic underdog tale of a young team that has upset of ilk of Bengal this season. But, as Riyan himself would agree, this is only the start of a propitious career; he has a long, long way to go. But for now, as he returns home to Guwahati, local dailies will brim with his pictures, social media with his future, and Parag Das alongside Mithoo Baruah will put an arm around their son and say, 'well-played beta'.
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