Riyan Parag walks out of the dressing room, kit mounted on his back and an Assamese song playing on his speaker. They beat Delhi on Wednesday to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy for the first time in 10 years. And Parag has had a major role to play in that success, with both bat and ball.
The Rajasthan Royals (RR) had envisioned similar prospects, when they signed a 17-year-old Riyan Parag for 20 lakh in the IPL 2019 auction. But a strike-rate and an average of 16.84 and 124.88, respectively, thus far, have failed to do justice to the all-rounder’s talent and RR’s unwavering faith in him. And the fact that Riyan Parag has played 47 times – 40 out of 45 matches since 2020 – has further irked cricket enthusiasts.
He is also a hardcore Virat Kohli fan. And with it, inevitably comes some showboating – an enthusiastic celebration after completing a catch, the odd stare-down, a certain debonair off the field. But it is not easy to be Virat Kohli. All of this comes at a cost.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Riyan Parag admitted that the widespread flak after a disastrous IPL 2020 got to him. After some extensive soul searching, however, he came to the realisation and acceptance that people’s opinions would only be as good as his last shot. The majority of them cannot really comprehend or, dare we say, would not even try to understand the deliverables put forth by the Royals.
By his own admission, it’s incredibly hard to start throwing the kitchen sink from the word go. But whatever happens, happens for the best. As luck would have it, Team India have a vacancy in that particular position.
If paychecks came early, so did reality checks. And Riyan Parag, all of 21, has become more equipped than most people his age. He has his sounding boards sorted. There is now an air of self-assurance around him. Even after smashing a match-winning 56* off 31 balls against Kohli’s RCB, he will know the job is only half done. He will pull off a stunner and yet wear a straight face – albeit sometimes to make a statement. Only the scoreboards have been left to do all the talking.
Riyan Parag has been Assam's highest run-getter for the past three T20 seasons, with his leg spin also accounting for 17 wickets. His maiden List A hundred, followed by another one, came recently as Assam pipped powerhouse Karnataka to the top spot in Group B. He is himself expectant of breaking into the fringes of the national team.
Assamese people have a strong cultural identity. But more than being a celebratory gesture, having the speaker playing while on his way out of the ground was strongly symbolic of Riyan Parag drowning out the outside noise.
Excerpts from Riyan Parag's exclusive interview to Sportskeeda
Q. Assam have made the Vijay Hazare quarters for the first time since 2012/13. How does it feel? What has brought about the change in fortunes?
Riyan Parag: It feels great. We have been in the mud for actually a lot of years now. But then, we have changed the team, the atmosphere has changed, young guys have come in. We did very well in the T20s – we won four out of seven, beating MP, Rajasthan, and all of those guys. And here, winning six out of seven, beating all the top teams, the self-belief is touching the roof right now. We are very confident of winning the quarterfinals and making the final.
Q. Do you have any memories of that 2013 final?
Riyan Parag: I was only 11 years old, I have just seen pictures of it. We will relive that this time.
Q. The Rajasthan Royals have retained you for your fifth year. How have they always given you the security amidst all the talk outside?
Riyan Parag: I think it’s very simple for me. The message is always clear: they believe in my abilities. 90 percent of the people don’t see what’s going on inside the team, how I am performing in practice matches, what I am doing. Everyone just sees the end product, which has been a bit rough for me. So everyone judges me on that. But the whole Royal family knows what I am capable of and what I have done in practice or even shown glimpses of it in matches. So the belief has always been there. They have backed me for four years. This is my fifth year now and I hope to repay them soon.
Q. You bat lower down for RR and it can’t always guarantee a significant end product. If you could describe your role and how you prepare for it?
Riyan Parag: It’s the tougher job in T20 cricket, to just come in and slog. Numbers six and seven are the hardest places to play in T20 cricket. Only some of the guys have mastered it. Not even some, I’ll just say only MS Dhoni has mastered it and no one else has. And I am doing it at such an early stage in my career. Not even master it, I am just getting to close to knowing what it all feels like – I am just sorting my way through it. So people can just talk whatever they want, but I know how hard a job it is and my team believes in me.
Q. Initially, it must have been hard to deal with all the criticism. But how did you come to terms with not paying any heed to it?
Riyan Parag: 2020 was a very low point in my career. And then, I talked a lot to myself and I figured out that only my opinion matters and no one else’s does. Even if Sangakkara and Sanju Samson tell good things about me and if I don’t believe in them, I think it doesn’t really make any sense or doesn’t have any impact on myself. So I think the outside noise is always there and will always be there. I do well and the same people are going to praise me and keep me as a king. So it doesn’t really matter. I know what I think of myself and I’ll stick to that.
Q. A word on your support system and close ones?
Riyan Parag: I know my circle. I have got like four-five people in my circle who I trust blindly and who I can trust on opinions. And that’s pretty much it.
Q. India are in need of a player who can both bat and bowl, come in late and tonk. How are you looking at that picture?
Riyan Parag: That’s definitely the goal. I think I have had a good Mushtaq Ali, I am having a decent Vijay Hazare - with both bat and ball. If we can win the quarterfinals, make the semis and final, some of the boys can get India A call-ups or anything like that. Because we never qualified, our names didn’t come up. So this time, maybe, I am hoping for an India A call-up, and the India one in the near future.
Q. Are you hence laying special emphasis on your bowling?
Riyan Parag: 100 percent, 100 percent. Like I said, the domestic season has been going great for me. So, hoping for the best.
Q. Like so many of us, you have always fanboyed over Virat Kohli. How much inspiration do you seek from him?
Riyan Parag: You just look at him and you can be inspired by anything he does. The way he carries himself off the field; on the field, we know what he does. All his antics, everything, everything – he is a whole package. How he involves himself in business and how he promotes his brand, he’s just a walking inspiration.