"If you have a problem with me, text me. And if you don't have my number, you don't know me well enough to have a problem with me."
The legendary actor Christian Bale had once said this, which inspired Tom Holland after the latter suffered a terrible bout of criticism following the release of his Apple TV+ series, The Crowded Room.
Riyan Parag relates to the quote so much that he recalls it vividly, word by word.
At the age of 21, Riyan has seen the best and worst of the cricketing world. The polarising opinions stunned him at 17, but he’s learnt to keep the highs and the lows on the same pedestal - where one is just walking distance from the other.
“I will tell you the truth, I can be a Macho and a cool dude and tell you it doesn’t affect me, but it did affect me. I’m a very self-centred guy, I keep it to myself. I have learnt it the hard way, in 2020, it was the lowest point in my career. I had the most killer season before (2019), I was 17, and I just expressed myself and was on top of the world,” Riyan opens up in an exclusive interview with Cricket.com.
In 2019, in just his first Indian Premier League (IPL) season, Riyan stunned the world with scores of 43, 47 and 50 in the competition, where he combined aggression with some solid cricket, but his world turned upside down over the next two years when the runs dried up in the Middle East, with a run tally of 86 and 93 in 2020 and 2021.
“Once a new kid comes in, who scores a lot of good knocks, you are really the freaking king of the world, that was all well and good. I wasn’t over the moon. Next year when I didn’t perform well, I was like, oh ****, people flipped like a switch. In Dubai, I still remember, we were quarantining, and I would just sit watching the beach at 5 AM, gazing at the stars, going, “What the hell am I actually doing” Why is everything going for a toss?
“I had a brilliant lockdown in terms of my work ethic and my diet. Why isn’t it working, why are the people trolling me on social media? The same dances that entertained people, why are they hating on it now? The same love for Virat Kohli I showed, why are they backing out now? Then I figured out when I had another bad season that there was no point in reading these things or taking their opinions seriously.”
During the same time frame when the pandemic hit the world, Riyan started live-streaming the famous First-Person shooter game, Valorant. Riot Games’ famous product allowed the youngster to bring out his competitive nature to his loyal fans under the alias of ‘V1BE’, where he has 42.5k subscribers.
“Have been trying to control my anger. I used to get really mad after getting out, I would punish myself by not eating, sleeping late, and just going for runs even when I’m tired. I take out that thought process while I’m gaming,” Riyan opens up about his gamer life.
“I used to play a lot of Counter-Strike, after that, Valorant. Counter-Strike 2 is coming, so I will definitely switch to that. I also play other games: Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption and Spiderman: Spider-Verse. I’m a total gamer.”
“I have stopped carrying my laptop, I’m top 5000 (rankings) in South East Asian server in Valorant. If I play with the laptop, I can’t really compete, and there are some ping issues. I only play when I’m home or out of a cafe. No one in Indian cricket plays Valorant,” he sighs.
Even during the toughest of times, when he was at the beach in the wee hours of the day, there was literally no support for the youngster, who was in this dangerous ocean of online trolls, barring then-Indian skipper Virat Kohli. Parag has always been an ardent fan of Kohli, and the Delhiite helped him tackle that dangerous phase of his career.
“It was all me, I’m a very quiet guy, I don’t think I have stepped out in Pondicherry even once during this whole tour. There are a few people who come up to you and talk to you. That’s the real truth in this cricketing world. I have been very fortunate with the Rajasthan Royals setup, I have a few people there,” Riyan talks about the tough phase of his career.
“I am fortunate to look up to Virat Kohli, and I have texted and called him, he has always responded. I have met him outside the field; he always gives time to share his thought process and what he did during that similar stage. Other than that, there were none.”
Whilst that phase definitely gave the youngster a mirror where he could reflect and ponder upon the progress of his career, it also made him strong as a porcupine from the outside, helping him tackle the highs and lows of the game.
However, the criticism wasn’t just from the online world, there were several commentators who, during national telecasts, were sceptical of Parag’s theatrics and mannerism on the field.
“I DO NOT CARE. I DEFINITELY DO NOT CARE ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT ME. I’M GOING TO PLAY CRICKET THE WAY I STARTED PLAYING CRICKET, THAT WAS ME HAVING **** TONS OF FUN. I want to play cricket the way I want to play. Performances for me don’t really matter, as long as I’m having fun and can stay calm, I think it is sorted, man,” Riyan specifically instructed to put the first few lines all in caps.
If you think that was it, rumours even suggested that Riyan’s family had some connection with the Royals setup, which made an automatic starter. From the outside world as well, the branding around the youngster was quite a stirring experience.
“What hurts me the most is that people think I take it for granted, I have some connections or sources, and that’s absolutely HORSE****, I told you about my journey. People from Assam haven’t played at the IPL level, I’m going to play a lot more. I do not take anything for granted, I have the craziest work ethic, you can ask people who are close to me. All that goes unnoticed because I don’t brag about it on social media. You can have all the assumptions if you don’t want to know me.”
Riyan isn’t a first-generation cricketer in his family, with his dad Parag Das, having played cricket at the state level for Assam. During his time as a cricketer, Parag was one of the best bowlers from the state, while his mom, Mithu Baruah, was a former national swimmer and one-time record holder in 50m freestyle, representing the nation.
At the age of ten, Riyan decided that ‘cricket’ would be his bread and butter, following in his dad's footsteps but with the bat with a quick-fire half-century in Chesterfield against a young English squad. However, there were plenty of instances when the all-rounder doubted himself, but the light shone bright at the end of the tunnel.
“See, being very honest, I have doubted myself, but I have never counted myself out, I started playing cricket because my dad was playing cricket,” Riyan talks about his cricketing journey.
“I saw that and fell in love with the game. He asked me if I wanted to play cricket for India or casually. I was a big foodie, if you want to eat butter chicken, if you want to eat grilled chicken, I can’t afford that. We were a middle-class family, we used to stay in the Railway quarters, where MS Dhoni also stayed. Whenever it rained, it used to flood. We were a proper middle-class family,” he added.
“I said there’s no way I was going to leave it at that, I definitely wanted to play for the country and afford the things I have wanted in life. At ten years old, I have never counted myself out of playing for the country, but I have doubted myself. That’s a big mistake to listen to people and their opinions.”
And it was not just plain ol’ cricket but with a dosage of fun attached to it, something that Riyan believes was completely missing from yesteryear cricket.
“That’s the point, I don’t think they had fun, I don’t think anyone in the cricket field has fun. If you look at Virat now, he’s having the best time of his life playing cricket. The amount of fun he’s having, that’s cricket. I have had to curtail the fun part of my game because a lot is happening outside it. With these performances, I hope that I can enjoy the game and not be judged by it.”
On Tuesday (August 1), in a must-win encounter against West Zone, East Zone found themselves struggling at 157/5. They were in a similar position against South Zone too earlier in the tournament before bottling up the first innings. But with Riyan at the crease, joined Kumar Kushagra, someone that Riyan can relate to very well. The duo put on a 150-run partnership in just 106 deliveries.
“The key between us (Kumar Kushgara-Riyan) is that we are calm in the middle. I told him before the tournament (in Duleep) I know that you are a damn good batter if you believe in yourself that if I stick around, then I will make it talk. Last game (against West Zone), we were having this target of 240 in our mind, we got there in the 42nd over, and we have already achieved that, so everything is a bonus.”
The duo have been in this precarious situation before as well when they put up a 235-run partnership in the Duleep Trophy after finding themselves at the crease at 57/5, with the partnership eventually helping East to a huge total of 337/8.
“He’s (Kumar Kushagra) a confident young guy, he’s just 18, and he plays damn mature. The thing is that I have been through this man, I have had people tell me exact things. Abhi jaake tu Insta kholege na, yeh log jo bhi bolte hain, ekdum nahi sunne ka (I know you will now go to Instagram but don’t listen to any of the opinions). You get that engagement, you don’t let these people enter your mind. It is a long road ahead, and I keep telling him that too.
So, who is Riyan Parag, according to Riyan himself?
“Riyan is the most chill and fun-loving person there is, cricket brings out a different side in me. But then, if you see me properly, my natural self comes out towards the end, even if I’m super calm. If you see the IPL, I celebrate, and I dance, I’m like that in real life as well,” Riyan talks about himself.
“I don’t mingle around with a lot of people. I always keep everything to myself, sometimes, it is not good for me, but I have started sharing things with close people. I am a guy who keeps everything within himself and bottles it all up.”
But with performances like this, there is a good chance that the 21-year-old Riyan would be met with thunderous applause wherever he goes. He is currently a work-in-progress, but his talent is such that you shouldn’t be surprised if he made a stellar jump to don his dream - the Indian jersey.