The Making of Riyan Parag 2.0: A Sporting Family, 12-hour shifts, and Zubin Bharucha

In the lead-up to IPL 2024, a simple Google search with the keywords “Riyan Parag social media” would have yielded a slew of articles with headlines lambasting the young cricketer for his Twitter posts or criticising his on-field performances. However, as the latest IPL season unfolds, the narrative surrounding Riyan Parag, the 22-year-old all-rounder representing Rajasthan Royals, has undergone a significant shift. With impressive knocks of 43 and an unbeaten 84, Parag has kicked off IPL 2024 on a resounding note, silencing his detractors and earning praise from fans and pundits alike. This transformation has sparked conversations about a rejuvenated Parag, often dubbed as “Riyan Parag 2.0” by his peers, including Suryakumar Yadav.

“He has worked so hard,” Mithu Baruah, a former national-level swimmer and Riyan’s mother, told Rev Sports. “It is just the process which has taken him this far. We expected this to happen sooner than later. It is just the start, nothing too great or overwhelming. He will have to continue this to go closer to his ultimate goal

“He has come of age. He is still a 22-year-old boy. He is gradually learning from his mistakes. He has chalked out a way for him, where he needs to control his mind, his actions and whatever is best for him. Maturity comes from making mistakes, the trial-and-error method, and learning from his mistakes. That’s what I always tell him – ‘failures are very important. Unless you fail, you will never succeed’. Certainly, that has made him stronger.”

Despite his young age and absence from the national team’s radar, Parag has found himself at the centre of social-media scrutiny, particularly during IPL seasons. Questions have arisen regarding his true potential and whether he is more than just hype.

Despite dominating the domestic circuit, Parag struggled in the IPL in recent seasons, leading to doubts about his place in the Rajasthan Royals line-up. His 2023 season was particularly forgettable, scoring just 78 runs in seven matches while batting in the lower middle order. However, the Royals’ decision to promote him to No. 4 has proven to be a game-changer. His remarkable performance, including an impressive knock against Anrich Nortje, has left spectators astonished. Parag’s success at this position is evident from his statistics, being one of only two batters with over 1000 T20 runs at No. 4, while boasting a strike-rate of over 150 and an average in excess of 40 – the other is Suryakumar. Prior to this, he had rarely batted in this position in the IPL.

Parag’s stellar domestic performances further validate his burgeoning talent. Emerging as the leading run-scorer in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament and excelling in the Deodhar Trophy and Ranji Trophy, Parag has showcased his versatility across formats. Not only has he led Assam brilliantly, he has set an example by smashing 151 sixes across the Syed Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare, Duleep, Deodhar and the Ranji Trophy.

So what is Parag’s schedule when he is away from the IPL sector, and the media glare? Not much, just facing 3000-4000 deliveries a day at the nets.

“When he is playing domestic, it is matchday practices, matchday and normal routine,” his mother said. “When he is preparing for the season, his routine starts at 5 in the morning and ends at 5:30 in the evening with a gap of an hour for breakfast and lunch and another hour of rest. There were days when he has put in 5-6 hours of practice in a day, facing 3000-4000 balls a day.

“He was with Zubin Bharucha last year after the IPL, and even before coming to this IPL. There were bowlers, bowling machines, throwdown specialists – an entire crew preparing him and a few others for the season. In Guwahati, he practices with We Are NorthEast Cricket Club. They have got facilities, especially for him, different pitches, for example, just to get him ready for different conditions during the season. His father has been there with him in this journey all through. Basically, it is the Rajasthan Royals academy and in Guwahati where he prepares for the grind.”

Beyond his on-field achievements, Parag’s demeanour has often sparked polarising opinions. His confidence, occasionally bordering on the cocky, flamboyance and unique celebrations have drawn both admiration and criticism from spectators and pundits. However, Parag’s refusal to conform to traditional expectations has only fuelled his determination to carve his own path in the cricketing world.

“That’s part and parcel of life,” said Mithu. “He doesn’t pay much heed to them nowadays. He is a tough nut. At times, he has a rhino’s skin. Of course, sometimes it affects him. After all, he is a human being like me and you. The things he gets to listen or read, it sometimes irritates him and that’s natural. What is important is his goal. He makes mistakes, he learns and he comes back again the next day to be a better player. That is important. He himself is a very emotionally strong person. In his own words, “myself to myself”, and that is a very good factor that keeps him going. We have always taught him to be very honest with himself. Look into the mirror and say that is wrong.

“If you don’t make mistakes, then you are not a human. I, as a mother, give him the overload of love. I know my son. I know him the best. What is arrogance to someone is confidence to someone else. He is a good human being. Wherever he goes, he takes those values. I have brought him up, so I know, and I don’t bother about what others think. At some point, he might look arrogant, he might look flashy. But his mentality is out of the lot. If we tell him, he listens. He is an obedient boy, even now. He is a child who ponders what his parents tell him. And I am proud of him. It is a collective dream for Riyan to play for India and we will do everything for him to achieve that.”

Coming from a family of sportspersons – apart from his mother’s swimming credentials, his father was a former Assam captain – what advise does he get from the two?

“Being in the international arena for almost two decades, I give him some inputs as to the peripherals of the game,” said Mithu. “I don’t deal with the cricketing technicalities, his father deals with it. Cricket is played on the field but there are so many things surrounding cricket that one needs to take care of, and inputs on that side. I think, I have been able to tell things and get him ready for the big stage at a very young age, even mentally.”

As IPL 2024 progresses, all eyes, including those of national selectors, will continue to be on Parag, and whether he can