Exclusive: This IPL is a big season for me, says Royals' Riyan Parag
'I am not the most talented guy, but I have the mental strength. I think that's what counts'
Riyan Parag counted some absolute legends of the game among his admirers after he became the youngest player to score a half-century in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2019.
Since then, the 19-year-old Rajasthan Royals batsman hasn’t really set the stage on fire with IPL only seeing glimpses of the talent.
For a rookie trying to find his feet on a big stage, it’s a huge challenge to come in at number six when you get only a couple of overs to play on most occasions.
But Riyan, during an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times ahead of the Rajasthan Royals’ first match against Punjab Kings on Tuesday, revealed why he loves these challenges.
It’s been about 10 days of training now after the quarantine and you play the first match on Tuesday. How has been the experience in UAE so far?
It’s been going really well. Slowly all the boys are coming out of the quarantine. All the Indian boys have had almost nine days of proper practice and we played a practice match as well. So everyone is looking in good shape, getting used to the conditions over here. The heat is pretty insane, it’s very hot actually. It’s like over 40 degrees. So you know, getting used to the conditions is important. The pitches are almost the same as we get in India. So that shouldn’t be a big factor. But then yeah, I think the boys are really geared up for the first match.
What measures do the players take while training in these hot weather conditions?
The heat is very dry over here. So we have different measures, we drink more electrolytes, get some cold towels on the back of our necks. We are trying to conserve as much energy as we can on the field, even while batting, we can optimise ourselves when we need it the most.
You are still very new at this level. So how challenging is it to bat in the number six position where you have to sort of take off from the first ball?
It’s very challenging. The number 6 is arguably the most difficult position to bat in, in cricket. It’s a great challenge, but I love challenges. At number six, what usually happens, is there are two situations – either we collapse and I have to go in and play like when we are four wickets down or five wickets down, or you just get a few overs. From the word go, you have to go and smash the ball. So I think it’s a very difficult position to bat in. I have had almost one and a half years, batting at the IPL in that position. So now I know, what to do and what my strengths are and how I have to approach the game in different situations. But then we have had a lot of chats in the dressing room about the batting order. So hopefully I might be promoted up the order this IPL.
Other than working on the technical side and the power-hitting side of the game, do you also visualize match situations in net sessions when you bat?
I am the type of cricketer who doesn’t believe much in practice. Definitely, I practice, but then I am not someone like Steve Smith, you know, he is like a cricket geek, who likes to practice a lot, who likes to bat a lot. I have never been that kind of guy. Even when we have net sessions, I just do my bit of half an hour batting, bowl for half an hour and just chill. And I just do other activities.
So I am really big on visualization. It’s become a part of my game now. Visualization is my mode of proper practice because I know who I am going to face, how I am going to face them, I can imagine different scenarios, I can imagine different situations. I can put myself in different situations. I watch a lot of videos of the great chasers like Virat (Kohli), MS (Dhoni), and see how they cope with the pressure situations and how I could implement that in my game and then you know come up with a solution. So visualization is a big part of my game.
You said Steve Smith is a cricket geek. We see him only in matches. But you saw him in training when he was with Rajasthan Royals. How was it like seeing this Australian genius at work?
He is a cricket geek. He bats a lot, he fields a lot, he bowls a lot, and all the time he is about cricket, even off the field, he talks about cricket. And even on the bus, he talks about cricket. So yeah, it’s just cricket with him. I am definitely not a geek like that.
How happy are you with the progress that you have made as a part-time leg-spinner?
I have worked a lot on my bowling this year. I don’t think I have shown the full potential that I have as a bowler in the IPL. I know I can be a genuine bowler who can give you three overs, four overs every game. It’s just that I haven’t really performed exceedingly well for my captain to give me three overs. So you know this time whenever I get those couple of overs, I think I need to show my true potential, to get those wickets, get those dots balls, get those crucial overs. Sanju (Samson) as a captain, has the belief in me that I can also bowl three or four overs for him.
You had a short bowling session with Chennai Super Kings’ Imran Tahir last year here in UAE and the video went viral. When we met him this year in Dubai, he said it’s not just about the talent, it’s about the desire. How badly you want to improve each day to become a better player. Did you also get a chance to speak to him on the mental side of the game?
I did not. It was just about bowling. But then I think talent is very overrated. I know I am not the most talented guy, I know I am not the most stylish batsman in the circuit. But I think I have the mental strength. I think that’s what counts. MS Dhoni is not the most technically sound batsman, but he is the greatest finisher in the world. So it’s all about the mental strength in this game. It’s 75 per cent mental and 25 per cent skills. So I think with the kind of mindset that I have, the kind of belief that I have in my skills, in whatever skills that I have, I think that’s what you need to go up a notch and make it to that senior level and not just make it to the senior level, but stay there. For me, it’s not about playing for India. For me, it’s just about playing for India and winning matches for India and staying at that level for a long time. So I think this IPL season is a big season for me. And even the domestic season coming up. So I think with this mindset, the belief that I have in myself, I think yeah I am going to go a long way.
Finally, we have to ask you this. You are from Assam, a state that hadn’t produced many top-notch athletes in the past. But that seems to be changing now. Athlete Hima Das and boxer Lovlina Borgohain have put the state on the world stage. Then you have also done well in the IPL, which is the biggest franchise league in the world. How does it feel to be part of that change because all of you have now inspired lot more youngsters in your state?
I think it’s amazing. These girls, what they have done is, remarkable. I think it’s insane. What they have done and what I have done, doing in my field, in the IPL, playing with the world’s best players. I hope all the cricketers in Assam get motivated by this, that they can also play in the IPL. There is so much talent there. Only you know if they can get the mindset, that ‘yes, even we can play at the IPL and we can play for the senior Indian team’, I think then we can see a lot more youngsters and a lot more cricketers coming up from Assam and making it at the big level.
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