Learning to shine under pressure, the Riyan way

Riyan Parag says the IPL experience has made him a better cricketer. AFP

Riyan Parag was destined to play cricket. Born to a cricketer father Parag Das who played for Assam and Railways, Riyan held a bat for the first time when he was barely 16 months old and since then, his affair with the game has only grown stronger.

“I have seen my dad play from a very tender age,” Riyan told DH. “Watching him do drills at home and watching him play on the field, I think that’s where the interest came in. I held the bat in my hand when I was barely 16 months, it was a plastic bat. I have pictures of that. So, the interest was there. It was just a matter of taking it up as a career or a hobby,” he noted.

As part of India’s triumphant Under-19 World Cup team, the 17-year-old from Guwahati has put on show his obvious talent but his 31-ball-47 against Kolkata Knight Riders for Rajasthan Royals the other day earned him overnight stardom. The precocious teen, who was out hit-wicket, had the commentators raving and the team-mates gushing with his wondrous innings in the cauldron called Eden Gardens.          

“I was really nervous before going out to bat because I didn’t really have a good history at the Eden Gardens,” Riyan recalled. “I had played three-four matches there and I hadn’t even got a 20. It was a state tournament and a totally empty stadium and still, I had that pressure. But to go out and play in front of 60,000 people supporting the home team was a different experience altogether. And when (Sunil) Narine dropped that catch (on 2), I knew I was going to do something. I had to make it count because no one drops such easy catches. I have been working hard through the IPL and I knew everything will fall into place which it did,” he recalled.

Playing under pressure, Riyan said, has been his biggest takeaway from IPL.

“There are so many things I have learnt that I can tell you but one thing I would want to mention here is learning to play under pressure,” he pointed out. “Playing alongside such living legends like Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes… They teach you how to play under pressure. That’s the key factor -- for a cricketer -- to play under pressure because that’s when your character shows. I won’t say I have mastered it (playing under pressure) but I am learning it. I didn’t know how to play under pressure till I came to the IPL. I would be really scared, really nervous to play. But I think playing with them, I have learned that a bit now.”

Like many other youngsters who are making a name for themselves – from Prithvi Shaw to Shubman Gill – Riyan too has graduated from the Rahul Dravid school where character-building is given as much importance as cricketing skills.  

“From (under-19 coach) Rahul sir, (what I have learnt is) being yourself when the hype is there around you,” he said. “Because when we won the under-19 World Cup, everyone was going gaga over it, everyone wanted a piece of us. But he taught us how to stay humble on and off the field. I think that’s the main thing that I have learnt from him – staying the person that you are even when there is  limelight.”

For someone as young as 17, Riyan shows maturity beyond his age.

“When you are performing, the hype is always there,” he remarked. “It’s just a matter of how you keep yourself unaffected from it so that it doesn’t distract you from the game. It’s never easy though. If everyone’s talking about you… When you open your Instagram, when you go on the search page, you see your photographs all the time, it’s very easy to click and get distracted. That’s where being yourself helps you keep focused on the game.”      

Coming from Assam, with no serious cricket culture, Riyan knows his challenges. He knows he has to strive harder for attention than say a boy from Mumbai or Bengaluru.  

“Coming from Assam, there are some differences obviously,” he said. “For example, if someone from Mumbai scores a double hundred, he will be noticed immediately, he gets that limelight instantly. Whereas someone from Assam will probably have to score (double hundred) twice or thrice to get that attention. But that’s the challenge we love. I have been told before I started playing in the domestic circuit that I have to perform big and on a consistent basis. I have been trying to do that and if you perform for two-three seasons consistently, there is no one who can stop you,” he said with an unmistakable confidence.

DH News Service  

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