Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Three weeks before his tenth standard board exams in March, Riyan Parag received a phone call that would give him tremendous joy but a hint of anxiety too. All of 15, he had been picked in Assam's senior state side for the Inter-state T20 competition. But that would also mean he'd barely have 48 hours to prepare for his first exam.
Faced with the quandary, Riyan approached his parents - both sportspersons - for advice on academics vis-à-vis cricket. "You may not get this opportunity again. Touch your heart and tell me what you want to do," Parag Das, his father, asked. "Cricket," answered the boy. That would be it. Riyan packed his bags and joined the senior state squad, trained, debuted in the T20s, and followed that up by playing two 50-over matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
His parents' go-ahead wasn't surprising. Das, a former first-class cricketer who played for Assam and Railways, was brought up on sport in a family of academicians. Mithu Baruah, Riyan's mother, is a former national swimmer and one-time record holder in 50m freestyle who represented India at the Asian Championships and SAF Games during the course of a decade-long swimming career, which she gave up in 1998, three years before Riyan was born.
The fortnight in which his results were announced vindicated their decision to put cricket over academics. It would give Riyan double joy. He secured a cumulative grade point average of 8.6 (distinction) in his CBSE exams. Then came the sweet news of his selection in India's Under-19 squad for the two youth Tests in England. A first foreign trip beckoned.
It's a decision the sports-loving couple now look back on with pride as Riyan finished the two youth Tests in England as India's second-highest run-getter, behind Prithvi Shaw. His twin fifties in the first-game - including a 33-ball half-century, the second-fastest behind Virat Kohli in recorded youth Tests, helped India set up a declaration and paved way for a 334-run victory in Chesterfield.
In the second Test, he made a half-century in India's quest for quick runs, strung a 131-run stand with Shubman Gill for the fourth wicket and set up a 2-0 series win. Prior to the tour, he finished a bumper season, in which he was the second-highest run-getter in the 2016-17 Cooch Behar Trophy, with 642 runs in 14 innings and a best of 202 not out.
As Riyan started the final day of his tour batting on 25, his parents are glued to the internet, counting every run he scored. His father, who doubles up as his coach, is delighted at his self-confidence. His mother calls him a fiercely independent and a mature individual whose ability to prioritise his life at a young age gives him an edge.
"He's very level-headed in the way he goes about his routines," she tells ESPNcricinfo. "If he had to be at training early in the morning, he would go irrespective of how tired he is or how late he sleeps. He always wanted to play cricket. Being around his father and watching him go through his routines during his playing days rubbed off on Riyan. This wasn't forced onto him, but once he chose it, we backed him completely."
Das, who works for the North-east Frontier Railways, moved from Maligaon, on the outskirts of Guwahati, to the vicinity of the Nehru Stadium to give his son's career shape. At the stadium, in 2010, Riyan's batting would impress Sandeep Patil, who was tasked with identifying talented boys for the Under-16 camp through an all-India talent hunt programme. Two weeks after Patil left Guwahati, the family would receive a call from Assam Cricket Association, informing them of Riyan's selection for the camp.
Joy would, however, quickly dissipate as the BCCI decided to put off the residential camp that year. He would, however, be called in for trials for the Under-16 team, and would be watched closely by his father. He made his Under-16 debut as a 12-year old in 2013. In the following year, he started his Under-19 career for Assam with a half-century on debut against Baroda.
"As a 14-year old, he was so impressive that he stood out among our young batsmen," says Sanath Kumar, who had two stints as Assam's head coach and led them to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals in 2015-16. "I suggested his name for the senior team that season because the way he approached our senior fast bowlers, Krishna Das and Arup Das, impressed me. His picking of lengths and temperament was unbelievable at that age. But the selectors felt he was too young."
While Riyan has climbed his way up the state's ladder since, his parents don't want their son to be burdened by expectation. "When he's here, we let him have a normal life. PlayStation, books and music," his mother says. "That way, he really is himself. If he misses classes, he finds ways to make up. Studying also gives him a release."
The next realistic target, they believe, is the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand early next year. While Riyan isn't part of the one-day squad on the ongoing tour of England, his parents believe it's only a matter of time. An Under-19 Asia Cup, which is in the pipeline for October-November, could be his next window. There's every chance a Ranji Trophy debut could happen too. For now, however, there's one reason less to worry. "More cricket, little more than studies," as per his wish.