Match Analysis

Fearless, big-hitting Riyan Parag carries out unenviable task with minimal fuss

His role in the team - to go after every ball - is high-risk-not-so-high-reward, but that hasn't affected his drive

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Riyan Parag's specialisation comes with the inherent risk of more failure than success  •  BCCI

Riyan Parag's specialisation comes with the inherent risk of more failure than success  •  BCCI

IPL 2021: 10 innings, 93 runs, highest of 25, strike rate 112.04.
Underwhelming numbers that one may struggle to justify at the best of times. And yet, Rajasthan Royals put in a bid of INR 3.8 crore to secure Riyan Parag's services at the February mega auction. Clearly, they knew something.
Before we get further, let's dissect the 25 he made in 2021. It came off 11 balls, at a time when Royals needed 99 off 7.1 overs. Sanju Samson needed support at the other end, and he got more than just that. Royals fell four short of their 222 chase but were building a fearless ball-striker who was ready to do the tough job.
Parag's specialisation comes with the inherent risk of more failure than success. Yet, that hasn't affected his drive or desire to get better at it. Thirty-one of his 67 balls he has faced so far this season has come in one knock alone - during his 56 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore. For perspective, Jos Buttler has faced nearly five times that number this season. Parag's knock was the difference between Royals finishing with 125 and eventually having 145 to defend.
Parag trains differently. It's not something cricket journalists are often privy to in these days of bio-bubbles, where pre-match training routines are almost out of bounds. Yet, IPL teams engaging the audience on social media through their bouquet of multimedia offerings have given glimpses of what we've missed in person.
Parag isn't someone to quietly walk off the moment the coach announces, "last set". Parag will ask for two more. Last ball? Parag will push the coach into having the bowlers send down a few more. "One more ball, six to win" and then, he'll signal to the coach the toughest field he'll want to clear.
And he'll let the world know with his Bihu (a dance form from Assam, the state he belongs to) dance if he did. And then within a few hours, he'll be behind the wheels of his gaming console, tussling with Buttler, Sanju Samson and Shimron Hetmyer. In short, he's a popular member of the squad, a lively presence who plays with a smile. Well, mostly. Let us for a moment ignore the scrap with Harshal Patel on Tuesday night. He's the kind you want to see on the field. The kind you wish succeeds.
What stands out about him is his self-confidence. You're unlikely to have guessed he had scores of 12, 5, 8, 18 and 5 in the five innings prior to Tuesday's. You're unlikely to have seen him retaliate to truckloads of online trolling - people asking him to just dance, instead of focusing on cricket. Such trolling isn't new. He can ask Jemimah Rodrigues, the India women batter.
Her keen interest for song and dance or the guitar often comes up for discussion every time she fails with the bat. As if her interests outside cricket had something to do with her performances on the field. But hey, they are online trolls for a reason and Parag knows that all too well.
He knows the brickbats that may come one day will be replaced by love and adulation by the same set of people. And that's because he understands it comes with the role he trains to play - limited upside, infinite downsides. The willingness to take on the challenge despite knowing this as a 20-year-old is what has impressed the Royals management.
When R Ashwin famously retired out earlier this season towards the final stages of the innings against Lucknow Super Giants, it was to give Parag the set of balls he needed to make maximum impact. Kumar Sangakkara later spoke of how they had erred tactically in not having Parag come in with a few more balls to play, and that the move to promote Rassie van der Dussen to No. 4 was perhaps a mistake.
Parag's own clarity of his role stems from a terrific understanding of the game, something he has honed carefully over time. He came up the ranks as a child prodigy. He should've been the youngest to have made his first-class debut at 14, but the Assam selectors felt at the time he was "too young."
And yet, at 16, he was smashing England Under-19s bowlers in a youth Test in gloomy Taunton. At 17, he was an Under-19 World Cup winner, and at 18, he walked out to MS Dhoni's quips from behind the stumps and was scooping and ramping Jasprit Bumrah.
Parag says a chat with Kohli last season helped bring in more refinement to his thought process. "Forget the orange cap, you ain't getting it," Kohli is believed to have told Parag. "Your focus should be to get the quick 15-20-25 runs you get at crucial times. Don't think about the volume of runs you get." This appears to have become a part of his muscle memory now.
For much of their batting innings on Tuesday, it appeared as if Royals erred by leaving Karun Nair out. Batters of his ability and style are like insurance policies. They are summoned only to avert a crisis. It is a role S Badrinath made famous in the IPL through his exploits for Chennai Super Kings.
This year, however, Royals haven't taken the conservative route. They've been after the high-risk-high-returns approach, and it has paid off most times. Buttler alone has shellacked three hundreds, and Samson has found his hitting range from time to time. Hetmyer hadn't scored below 25 in six of the seven matches coming into the game. Devdutt Padikkal was coming into his own.
And yet when Parag walked into bat, Royals were floundering at 68 for 4 at the halfway mark. Parag may have been under pressure, but in playing himself in, lining up the bowlers and his hitting zones, he brought out an element of maturity.
Yes, he got lucky and none of this may have been possible had Wanindu Hasaranga not shelled the catch at cover, but if you're prepared to do the dirty job, you deserve some luck.
And if you can scythe sixes over extra cover off yorker-length deliveries, you deserve some more.
This was by no means a breakthrough knock. It was, however, yet another reiteration of Parag's utility and his ability to do the job few work towards day in and day out. After all, how does one possibly prepare to face just 10 balls in the innings? Ask Dinesh Karthik. Or ask 'work-in-progress' Parag.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo