Riyan Parag scored 552 runs including three centuries in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy and helped his team Assam reach the semi-final stage of the tournament. It has been a stellar season with the bat for the 21-year-old, who has faced a lot of flak on social media in the past for his outings with the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. From reducing outside noise to making minor changes with the bat, Riyan has certainly turned a corner in what has turned out to be a dream tournament for both him and Assam.
In an exclusive chat with Cricketnext.com, the youngster sheds light on what it took to bat tall and big this season, how he has managed to drown out the outside noise, in his growth as a bowler R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal’s role, and more. Excerpts:
runs, tons and Assam reached the semi-finals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. It has been a great season for both the team and you. How has it been on the personal front?
To be honest I am working from last few years and I am not getting the result which I wanted but this year I feel I was more focused I stopped outside noise I interacted with many people Wasn’t talking and was concentrating on what I had and the task at hand. The season is not over yet but it has been great so far.
You were always known to hit long and big and it was on display during VHT as well. But the century and the big innings finally came out of your bat. What changes did you make in your game to play long and deep innings?
I just realized that I needed to score big runs and working around my big shots was the only way to score big runs. Whatever the conditions, the big shots were going to come, so I just had to play around that. I just thought how can I rotate the strike after a big shot, how can I plan a big shot, how can I set up a particular bowler for a big shot. So instead of downplaying my instincts and strengths, I just turned my game around it. So, I based my game around just boundary shots. Even though the tournament was good, I easily missed out on at least 150-200 runs. Out of eight (nine) matches, I got four big scores, one golden duck, thirty was… It went well, I made big scores but it could have been better and I should have been sitting on 700+ in Vijay Hazare Trophy. The season is on.
On the team front, Assam owned a group containing domestic giants like Delhi Capitals and Karnataka. What changed within the team to take on the bigger teams?
I think the self-belief has changed. Personally, I have always loved playing against good teams and I feel that brings out the best in me as a cricketer. But the challenge was to transcend the mindset and keep the same mindset through the unit. It was important that all the players align towards the mindset to qualify for the knockouts and even win the trophy. The boys must be patient and Assam is no longer the weak link in the group.
You are a part of IPL since 2019 now with Rajasthan Royals. You think the IPL experience has made you mentally tough for the battles ahead?
Playing in such a big league with such big stars definitely develops you as a cricketer and it has helped me to play a certain brand of cricket which I have been playing in the domestic circuit. And I definitely want to continue doing that in the IPL and at the international level. I have always been like that (mentally strong). Wherever I was playing, I always had that killer instinct or strongest mindset and a tournament like IPL definitely helps.
Even when the world had seen little of you, RR picked you and have supported you ever since. How important was it to have this kind of support early in your career?
very. The whole team including Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara) and Sanju Samson have shown a lot of faith in me. In the last four years, the first year was good for me, then the next three years playing lower down the order… I have always said that this is the most difficult thing in T20 cricket. It’s a challenge I want to master and I’m learning a lot of new things and you only get better playing that role. Playing at No.6/7 in a high-pressure T20 match is a tough job, but it will only build your character. External noise is always there. Everyone talked about how the management supported me but no one really threw light on why they are supporting me. Only the team and management know this. There is none during the practice sessions or the matches we play or even the home matches. People only follow the score. That’s not how an IPL team or really any team works. Only we know what is going on behind the scenes or what is the reason for the faith they have shown in me. I am in a very good mental state, and how to take the next step or reach the next level. People will have an opinion – good or bad. It doesn’t really matter.
Still I think it is difficult for a young person to ignore the external noise when information keeps pouring in on Twitter, Instagram…
2020 was really a low point in my career. 2019 was a bang up season and then coming into 2020 and not really doing anything… except one game I guess. It was very noisy outside and I am really happy and grateful that it happened. I needed to learn something. I needed my back against the wall to come back and prove myself. No one else. Even if Sanga or Sanju support me or believe in me and I don’t really believe what they are saying about me or the game, it doesn’t mean anything. I have been prioritizing my opinion of myself and myself. can definitely play for India For the next years, I just stick to that and work, work and work only for that.
Not getting into specifics or a deep dive into last season’s games, but did you ever get the feeling that the youngster taking the big boys/established players to the big stage didn’t sit well with them?
There is such a thing in India where cricket has to be played in a certain way. There is a rule book for cricket, I think only successful players can celebrate and you can do this, you can do that. I started the game because I liked it and enjoyed playing the game. And that’s how I play my cricket… be it IPL or school games at home. I am not going to change the way I play cricket or celebrate. It’s just that I enjoy it. Nowadays people have taken the fun out of the game, it is a very serious game (laughs). I like to play my cricket in a very fun way. He is not going to change. If people want to change their opinion, they can. Even if they don’t, it doesn’t really matter because I’m very satisfied with myself.
Coming back to the domestic season, you have bowled a lot this year. Has it been a conscious effort to work on that area of your game and continue doing it on a regular basis?
100%. Firstly it helps my home team, secondly it helps my IPL team also and thirdly it is my aim to play as an allrounder for India. I don’t want to play as a pure batsman. I have been doing a lot of off-season work and having Ash bhai (R Ashwin) and Yuji bhai (Yuzvendra Chahal) in the team last year helped a lot. You know how to learn new things from him and keep my composure while bowling.
Ranji Trophy starts in a very short time. Change of plans for red ball competition or same drill again and again?
I mean if you look at England, they don’t really change the way they play (laughs). Different conditions, different pitches so approach can be different. But I think the intent should be positive because at the end of the day the main goal is to score the right runs. As long as I am scoring runs, it doesn’t matter how I am scoring runs.