IPL 2024 – Rajasthan Royals – Kumar Sangakkara – Maturity and hunger set Riyan Parag apart now

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Riyan Parag is set to get an extended role at No. 4 at Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2024. For his team, it’s reward for his work behind the scenes, his impressive domestic form, and the upsides he offers as an “all-round batter”, something he couldn’t put on display while playing as a finisher.

Last season, Parag made 78 runs in seven innings. In IPL 2022, he made 183 in 14. In 2021, he made 93 in ten. These are underwhelming numbers. Yet, Royals believe they have seen enough in Parag that points to something special in the offing.

“It was a cricketing decision,” Royals’ director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara said of Parag’s promotion in the batting order. “We looked at how he has performed over the years. It’s a very difficult thing for someone like Riyan, who has an overall game, just to always only get the toughest parts of the game where he has to come in and up the run rate at the death.

“We all felt that he has a much more important role that he can play for us. And the hard work that he did leading up to the season, all the runs he scored at domestic cricket, all played a part in that decision.

“Riyan, and all the players, of course, have to repay that faith. He’s off to a great start. He just has to keep working on making sure he reads the game well and keep trusting what he can do at No. 4. He’s good against pace and again so that important position of four was ideally suited for him.”

Parag opened IPL 2024 with a 29-ball 43 against Lucknow Super Giants, putting together a match-turning 93-run stand off 59 balls with Sanju Samson. Parag didn’t try to take down the bowlers from the get-go but played himself in and attacked once set. It’s in line with the role he has played at Assam. It’s a role that has brought him a truckload of runs in the domestic season, especially across the white-ball formats.

“He’s still a very, very young cricketer. We shouldn’t forget that. He’s also been hugely in the focus over the years as one of the faces of the franchise, of the younger brigade”

Kumar Sangakkara on Ruyan Parag

At the Deodhar Trophy, the inter-zonal 50-over tournament, he was the highest run-getter, highest six-hitter, and third-highest (joint) wicket-taker. Two of his five List A hundreds came in that tournament. He was Player of the Tournament too.

His first century there, a 102-ball 131, took his team from 57 for 5 to 337 for 8. His second, a 68-ball 102 not out, decimated West Zone. In the final, his team was tottering at 72 for 4 in a chase of 329 and Parag brought them back with a blistering 65-ball 95.

He followed that with another chartbuster at the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s. He made 510 runs in ten innings at a strike rate of 182.79. This included a sensational run of seven back-to-back half-centuries. He subsequently earned a call-up from the BCCI’s National Cricket Academy to be part of a targeted pool of players.

“The biggest thing we’ve seen in Riyan is maturity,” Sangakkara said. “Irrespective of the support we offer players, self-awareness of your game, knowing what is good for you, how your lifestyle is both on and off the field – all of that has changed in Riyan.

“He’s still a very, very young cricketer. We shouldn’t forget that. He’s also been hugely in the focus over the years as one of the faces of the franchise, of the younger brigade. He’s also seen the huge jumps that [Yashasvi] Jaiswal and [Dhruv] Jurel have made, and he’s got a hunger there now and an example to follow into the national team.

“We know players have a variety of ambitions – IPL is one of them. He understands his game more and taking on more responsibility has become non-negotiable to him.”

Since Parag’s IPL debut in 2019, only Rahul Tewatia has played more games than his 55 in the tournament among uncapped Indian players. If Sangakkara’s reading of Parag is accurate, that “uncapped” bit against his name could change.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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