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Feature

It's time to change your opinion about Riyan Parag, even if he won't

All the runs in domestic cricket, "that constant support from myself to myself", and a maturity that's taken time coming have lifted Parag to the next level

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
29-Mar-2024
Riyan Parag had nailed it. Standing deep inside the crease, he picked the length early and walloped the pull front of square. Parag's eyes were on the ball, in total self-admiration of the connection he had made. Anrich Nortje looked away without looking up.
Parag had already hit Nortje for a sequence of 4, 4, 6 and 4 earlier in that over, the final one of the innings. This six, however, took the cake for savagery, swagger and aesthetics all rolled into one. It was as if he knew what was coming. He was ready when the ball - a bouncer at 144kph - was halfway to him, some 0.3 seconds earlier.
The over cost 25 and Parag finished unbeaten on 84 off 45 balls as Rajasthan Royals made 185. Astonishing as it may sound, Parag is one of only two batters with over 1000 T20 runs at No. 4 with a strike rate of over 150 and an average over 40. Only once prior to this knock had he batted at this position in the IPL.
The only other man to have such numbers was watching from afar, awed by what he had just seen. Four years ago, Suryakumar Yadav had been in Parag's shoes, doing unreal things that earned him the admiration of his seniors. Then India head coach Ravi Shastri was among those wowed by the pyrotechnics.
"Surya Namaskar. Stay strong and patient," Shastri had tweeted, perhaps in an effort to console the man who had missed out on national selection despite having had the kind of IPL he had that year: averaging 40.22 and striking at 155.36 as a finisher; 235 of his 480 runs came in death overs alone, faster than Hardik Pandya and just a shade slower than at Kieron Pollard's strike rate of 210.25.
The same Suryakumar was now watching on TV, gushing about what he'd just seen. "Met a guy at NCA few weeks ago," his post on X read. "He came with a slight niggle. Completely focused on his recovery and with great discipline working on his skills. And I was not wrong to tell that to one of the coaches there 'He is a changed guy'. Riyan Parag 2.0. Watch out."
Watch out, indeed.
Because Parag did what he did on Thursday against Delhi Capitals while on a high dose of antibiotics. Severe dehydration and fever had nearly ruled him out of the fixture. He could hardly connect with the ball at training on match eve. He was cramping, and the weakness had gotten to him.
"I've had to work very hard," Parag said at the post-match presentation. "For the last three days, I was in bed, sick. I just got up with painkillers and could manage today. I'm happy for myself."
In an age of diplomacy, that Parag chose to give himself credit was quite revealing. It gave you a peek into the mind of the 22-year-old, who has elicited contrasting opinions over the years, uncharitable for the most part: about his game, his celebration, his raised collar, the confidence that many believed bordered on the cocky, or the arrogant. That Parag didn't conform didn't seem to sit well with many.
This seemed to bother him earlier. Not anymore.
"I've said multiple times, I know what my opinion is about myself," he said. "No matter what anyone says, I don't let that change. That has never changed regardless of whether I'm performing or not performing. Even if I got a zero today, that opinion was never going to change. That constant support from myself to myself always helps."
"We had a chat right here last night that someone from the top four has to bat the 20 overs. On a wicket like that, for someone coming in new, it is very challenging. In the first match Sanju [Samson] bhaiyya did it, today I did it. It's always fun when everything works out"
Riyan Parag
On match eve, Kumar Sangakkara spoke in detail about what Royals had seen in this 2024 version of Parag. And it gave them the belief that he deserved the No. 4 spot, that he was too good a player to simply be used as a finisher. This season so far, in two innings, he has scored a lot more (127) than his entire IPL 2023 tally (78 in seven innings).
It wouldn't have surprised people following Indian domestic cricket. Parag was the highest run-getter and the highest six-hitter at the 50-over Deodhar Trophy, where he made two hundreds and a near-century in five innings. At the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20s, he made 510 runs at a strike rate of 182.79, including a run of seven straight fifty-plus scores. On Thursday, there was a maturity to his innings that stems from an understanding of his own game.
"You get a lot of confidence from getting runs in the domestic circuit," he said. "We had a chat right here last night that someone from the top four has to bat the 20 overs. On a wicket like that, for someone coming in new, it is very challenging. In the first match Sanju [Samson] bhaiyya did it, today I did it. It's always fun when everything works out."
Against Capitals, Parag had to steady a wobbly innings. Having walked in at 30 for 2 in the sixth over, he was on 0 off 4. It could have prompted his earlier version to have a swipe at the fifth. But he tapped a single to long-off. It also helped that R Ashwin, promoted to No. 5 as a spin-disruptor, helped nudge the scoring rate higher during their partnership.
At one point, Parag was on a run-a-ball 26. But something about Ashwin's two sixes in an over off Nortje seemed to flick Parag's switch on too, as if that was a sign that he could finally take off. And when he did, Parag was quite a sight to behold.
He tore into Khaleel Ahmed, whipping a hip-high short ball over backward square-leg for six with some nonchalance. In the same over, Khaleel went full with deep cover and wide long-off, only to see Parag open the bat face late to slice him behind point for four. Then, when he went around the wicket, trying to bowl full and into the body, Parag moved leg side of the ball to loft him over extra cover for six. The full range was beginning to make an appearance.
By now, Parag wasn't just picking his spots, he was also playing the field and running on instinct.
Like in the 16th over, when he outclassed Mukesh Kumar. Having just been pulled in front of square by Dhruv Jurel, Mukesh had demanded protection at deep midwicket. That confidence allowed him to bowl full on middle and leg. Except, Mukesh hadn't accounted for Parag's wristwork in picking the low full toss over square leg. He'd picked his spot to perfection.
The shot he got to his half-century with was equally astonishing - backing away to a slot ball and lofting it over long-off with an element of bottom hand. From being in first gear for large parts, Parag was on overdrive, having gotten to fifty off just 34 balls.
The full-blown carnage, though, hadn't yet arrived. And when it did in the final over, Nortje, Capitals and everyone else, watched with their jaws touching the floor. It was destructive batting like rarely seen, full of method and oodles of confidence.
It was summed up later with a one-liner, said in earnest. "This is just the beginning, a small start."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo