CHENNAI: When Riyan Parag walked out to the middle, with Assam reduced to 45/2 while chasing 351 against Jammu & Kashmir in the quarterfinal of the Vijay Hazare Trophy in Ahmedabad on Monday, not many were sure how the end result would be. Not even Riyan’s father Parag Das. But Das knew one thing. Riyan had to do well for them to have a chance of getting over the line.
And Das knew he had done his part when he spoke to Riyan before the match. He told Riyan that there would be another Vijay Hazare Trophy next year, but the match that just got over will never come back again. “I told him, ‘You will grow, and someday even become a great player, but that situation, the bowler, the ground, the circumstances will never happen again. Keep in mind, play it like it is your last match. Don't think that you should have done this or that. Do it now, enjoy and seize the moment,” Das told this daily.
Perhaps, Riyan remembered it all too well when he went out to bat. This was Assam’s first quarterfinal since 2012-13. It was his first as well. In the lead up to the knockouts, Assam had beaten Jharkhand, Karnataka, Vidarbha and Rajasthan. He was among the top run-scorers as well. He knew that if they let go of this opportunity, it might not come back again. He had to stay there and do it now. Over the next couple of hours, that is exactly what he did as he smashed an extraordinary 116-ball 174 to take Assam into the semifinals. Or, as Das told him, he had seized the moment.
Das isn’t surprised though. He says that he knew the moment Riyan went past his fifty, something special was going to happen. After all, he has seen his son go through significant growth not just physically, but mentally, since the pandemic broke. He believes that Riyan has become more mature as a person in the past couple of years.
Now, Riyan is the embodiment of a Gen Z (people who were born between 1997-2012) cricketer. He isn’t shy of his identity or personality, nor is he hesitant to enjoy the little things in life and share it with everyone else. One skim through his social media will tell a lot. He live tweets matches like any other cricket fan (Assam’s campaign is chronicled in an engaging manner on his twitter timeline), NFTs, pop culture references and video games... he never hesitates to show his unabashed admiration for other cricketers — even when most on the platform is on the other end of the spectrum.
Social media can get toxic, especially when you are not in the majority. Add to it that you are a professional cricketer from India, everything you say would be related to your performance on the field. With Riyan, it has happened several times. Sometimes, it has been for ridiculous reasons such as appreciating Virat Kohli or even celebrating a catch on the field during the Indian Premier League (IPL). Somehow, the 21-year-old has managed to tide through all this without losing the vibe he brings to the field.
However, it must not have been easy. At least, it wasn’t early on for his parents. “As a parent, honestly, it will make you feel bad whenever anyone speaks about your child,” says Das. “But we know we are in sports and in India, cricket comes first. The sport holds such a position that it will keep coming and we have to adjust. Me and my wife follow him on Instagram, we know who writes what, but we have to let it go. When he does well, they will praise. Earlier, we used to feel bad. Now, we are used to it.”
As for Riyan, Das says that they speak about it. Riyan being a fan of Kohli helps him in that conversation as well. “It becomes the perfect example. ‘If Kohli is not being spared on social media, who are me and you’ is what I tell him. Sometimes he goes live on Instagram and if someone says something there, sometimes he gives a counter. But I told him not to interfere or engage. Let it go, and let them say and do what they want to between themselves.
“No one goes in thinking get out for a duck or give six sixes. Everyone wants to do well, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Whatever that is said on social media, how to shut them off? You have a bat and ball in hand. No matter whatever you say or reason with them, until you do it with the bat on the field, it won’t happen.”
For Das, Riyan's positivity comes from both his parents — a bit of introverted father and an extrovert mother. He feels the way Riyan has accepted all this stems from the fact that the all-rounder was exposed to the world early. He acknowledges the generation gap. “He has been out there since he was eight. And whatever social media that is there, they all began in his generation. We had to learn all this, but not him. He grew alongside all that,” said the former first-class cricketer.
The Rajasthan Royals cricketer has found a way to be true to himself on social media despite all the fame, name and abuse that comes with it. Although it is not ideal or fair, he knows that these are the cards he has been dealt with. He has even embraced it. Perhaps, his pinned tweet sums it up.
“We all live in a world today where passion is attitude, confidence is arrogance, admiration is sweet talking. And don’t you dare be yourself because that’s termed inappropriate, out of line and no matter what you do, you are sure to be judged. You do you, who cares what they think,” reads the image on the tweet, with the caption ‘You do you. Always.’ Gen Z, it sounds about right.
As for the on-field stuff, if he keeps doing what he did on Monday, the rest, in all likelihood, will take care of itself.