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Why a promotion to No.4 could help RR get the best out of Riyan Parag

Last updated on 21 Mar 2024 | 10:51 AM
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Why a promotion to No.4 could help RR get the best out of Riyan Parag

Padikkal’s departure could potentially open the door for Parag to slot into his preferred No.4 position.

At 17 years and 152 days, Riyan Parag, in April 2019, became the third-youngest debutant in IPL history. 

And then 23 days later, he became the youngest half-centurion in IPL history, smashing a valiant fifty against a strong Delhi attack that included Trent Boult, Axar Patel and Amit Mishra among others. 

Young. Exciting. Flamboyant. Charismatic. Supremely talented. Parag had all the ingredients to turn into a superstar. 

It felt like the only thing that stood between him and inevitable superstardom was time. 

Five years on, however, the Riyan Parag IPL prophecy remains unfulfilled. 

Parag is in the midst of one of the most puzzling yet fascinating career arcs in Indian cricket. 

In general, most local players fall under a few different categories. 

> Players who are consistently decent in domestic cricket but never breakthrough at the IPL level. 

> Talented players who do well in domestic cricket, burst into the IPL scene and either make the jump to international cricket or remain solid, reliable IPL performers. 

> Players who have an extraordinary purple patch for a limited time, make it to the IPL, impress there, but then fade away and go back to being domestic cricket journeymen  — your one/two season wonders. 

Parag is almost an outlier in that sense, for he doesn’t fit into any of these categories. He is a domestic behemoth and an IPL regular both, yet he’s struggled to establish himself as a reliable IPL performer. 

The stark difference between Parag’s domestic and IPL numbers 

Since the start of 2020, 55 Indian batters have scored 500 or more runs in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT). Among them, Parag has scored the most runs (1133), maintained the best average (66.65) and has the second-best strike rate (162.6). 

He’s averaged over 50 in each of the last three SMAT editions, and was the standout batter in the 2023/24 SMAT, where he was the only batter to breach the 500-run mark. 

In fact, SMAT 2023/24 saw Parag accomplish an even crazier record as he became the first batter in history to register seven consecutive half-centuries in T20 cricket. 

It’s not just the T20 format that Parag has been dominating at the domestic level. He’s also been one of the standout batters in 50-over cricket, having amassed 906 runs at an average of 75.5 and strike rate of 128.2 across Vijay Hazare Trophy and Deodhar Trophy since the start of 2022. 

You’d expect a batter of this caliber to produce semi-decent returns at the IPL level at least, however that’s not been the case with Parag. For, across the last four IPL seasons, Parag’s average of 13.75 is the worst among all batters who have played 30 or more innings in the top seven. 

Since his debut in 2019, the 22-year-old has featured in four IPL seasons and has averaged under 20.00 in every single one of them. 

His overall IPL average after 54 matches reads an eye-watering 16.22 despite the right-hander predominantly being deployed as a batter by Rajasthan. 

Put simply, Parag the batter in domestic cricket and Parag the batter in IPL have been two different individuals altogether.

How could this be the case?

Well, one thing could explain it — Rajasthan’s usage of the youngster. 

Parag in RR: A middle-order batter force-fit into the finisher’s role 

As attested above, Parag the batter in domestic cricket and Parag the batter in IPL are two different individuals —  literally.

For, while Assam’s Parag is a middle-order batter, RR’s Parag is a finisher.

And herein probably lies a big reason for the right-hander’s abysmal returns in the IPL.  

In his entire T20 career for Assam, Parag has never batted outside the top five. He’s batted 42 times for Assam in T20s and 86% of these knocks have come at either No.4 or No.5. 

The 22-year-old has scored 70% of his total runs for Assam at No.4, where he’s amassed 1004 runs at an average of 47.81 and strike rate of 148.5. 

In complete contrast, meanwhile, a whopping 77.27% of Parag’s knocks in the IPL have come outside the top five. 

Parag has spent 57% of his RR career batting at No.6, where he’s averaged a mere 17.3. Make of it what you will, but Parag’s numbers for RR get better as he goes up the order. 

There are no excuses for Parag averaging as low as he is in the IPL after the amount of opportunities he’s been offered, but it does feel like he’s thus far been pigeon-holed into a role he’s not suited to/comfortable with.

Parag has an imperious record for Assam but even for his state side, he’s been a slow starter, with the right-hander registering a strike rate of 117 in the first eight balls of his innings in SMAT (in games in which ball-by-ball data is available). 

The right-hander has always tended to be someone who’s been more comfortable to launch later into his innings after getting his eye in; he’s never been a finisher. 

He himself admitted in an interview to PTI last year that while he loves the challenge that comes with the tough finisher’s role, he’d always prefer to bat in the middle-order, at No.4.

"If they (Royals) were to ask me where I want to bat, I would say No. 4,” Parag told PTI last year. 

“But, then, like always, I am open to bat wherever the team needs me and wherever they think I fit the best. It is a team game; whichever way the combinations match up, I am happy to contribute.”

Across the last three seasons for RR, Parag has played a handful of scorching cameos down the order that has served as a reminder of the talent and ability he possesses. The 31-ball 56* against RCB in 2022 in Pune and the 26-ball 42* against SRH in 2020 in Dubai are right up there as Parag’s best knocks in the competition. 

However, such knocks have been few and far between. He’s largely struggled to get a hold of the finisher’s role, with there being more misses than hits. 

That he’s struggled on both the average and strike rate front, over an extended sample size, is evidence for the fact that Parag is probably not suited for the finisher’s role. 

RR’s chance to unleash the Assam version of Parag in the IPL

For four seasons, RR have not been able to give Parag an extended run at No.4 and this is also partly due to them having a stacked batting roster. 

Since 2020, Sanju Samson (15) has played the most innings for the Royals at No.4. RR have also had the likes of Shivam Dube, Steven Smith and Devdutt Padikkal occupying the position.

Last season, there was not much scope for RR to play Parag in the Top 4 because of Samson and Padikkal, with these two batters batting 70% of the time in the No.4 slot.  

But this time around, Padikkal’s departure could potentially open the door for Parag to slot into the No.4 position. Thanks to the franchise roping in two lower-order hitters in Rovman Powell and Shubham Dubey, there is also no longer a necessity to forcefully slot Parag into the XI as a finisher. 

Rajasthan have already shown unending faith in Parag, backing him to the hilt despite incessant criticism, but the franchise have thus far not been able to get the very best out of the youngster due to strategic constraints. 

Parag has been afforded a lot of luxuries during his time at RR, but an extended run in his preferred No.4 position has not been one. IPL 2024 could see him finally get it. 

With the way he’s made a mockery of the bowlers in domestic cricket in the past year, you can’t say Parag hasn’t earned it. 

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