In another two years, India’s 2018 U-19 World Cup winning team may well be the talking point for being a converging point for a golden generation of players.
For those fearless bunch of teenagers, the big stage has hardly ruffled them. And that is not restricted to age-group cricket alone. Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill – the architects of that World Cup win in New Zealand – had stellar starts to their Indian Premier League season.
Pacer Shivam Mavi, who played for Kolkata Knight Riders last season can also stake a claim there. It remains to be seen what highly-rated but injury-prone pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Ishan Porel can produce. Their time in the IPL is yet to arrive.
Also throwing his hat in the ring among that coterie is 17-year-old Riyan Parag. Despite top players under-performing in the Rajasthan Royals side, Parag showed monk-like presence at the crease, effortlessly dealing with tricky situations. Through that, Rajasthan are making a late surge to throw caution to the wind in the playoffs race.
With Rajasthan’s middle and lower-middle order’s poor form having all but derailed a season that offered so much promise, Parag’s youthful energy and maturity that belies his age has been a breath of fresh air.
Parag’s captain Steve Smith had seen enough of him to sing his praises at the post-match press conference. He said: “Riyan Parag....Isn’t he an impressive young man? He played very composed like a seasoned campaigner.
“He works very hard, he’s a fit and strong young kid. The way he batted, even in the first game that he played, he taught a lot of the experienced players a few lessons, including myself.”
Smith was referring to the ease with which the baby-faced batsman setup the chase against Kolkata Knight Riders. Jofra Archer, of course, provided the final flourish after it looked like the inaugural winners crumbling under spin threat of the Kolkata side.
Parag chose his battles wisely. He was watchful against the spin threat of Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla – both of whom had terrific games – and opened his arms against Kolkata’s erratic pace attack. Even a nasty bouncer from Andre Russell that clipped the back of his helmet didn’t deter him.
An unfortunate hit-wicket dismissal brought an end to his stay after scoring a fluent 31-ball 47. This came on the back of another match-winning contribution. Mumbai Indians, masters of defending low totals, had a sniff. Two wickets fell in quick succession but Parag swatted aside any fears, building a steady 70-run partnership with skipper Smith to take his side home.
Even on that occasion, a needless run-out deprived him of chance to walk out with the satisfaction of getting Rajasthan over the line, something that the side have struggled to do all season, but their late shake-up has gone to plan so far.
Smells like teen spirit
The maturity that Smith pointed out at the end of the game was perhaps borne out of the Guwahati-born cricketer’s quick-thinking. Be it choosing cricket over academics at the tender age of 15 when he earned his first senior call-up for Assam or making a giant leap in cricketing years to make his first-class debut just a week after turning 16.
It looked like Parag may not played any part in the U-19 World Cup; he had broken his finger during a practice session. He had missed the first two weeks of the competition but braved through the rest of it with a role to play after taping his injured hand. The Assam cricketer was now bowling leg-breaks and chipped in with the ball during India’s comprehensive semi-final win over Pakistan.
This was after he had a stellar run with Rahul Dravid’s vibrant side during the buildup to the tournament. While Shaw, Gill, Manjot Kalra and the pacers established themselves as the brightest Indian prospects for the years to come, Parag remained an unknown quantity. That explains him becoming the last man to be sold during the auctions this years.
There is surely more to come from him following those steely displays. Teenagers were one of the biggest talking points before this season’s IPL, especially after the astronomical fees that were spent on them.
Amongst the young multi-millionaires, Kings XI Punjab’s Prabhsimran Singh has barely got a look in and leg-spinner Prayas Ray Barman of Royal Challengers Bangalore will not look back at this tournament fondly. Mumbai Indians’ Rasikh Salaam had an encouraging start but was soon shunned to the sidelines. For some, the immediacy of turning expectations into performances were just a step too far in a cut-throat environment.
Not for Parag, though, who was carefully nurtured for the big stage by father Parag Das, who was an established first-class cricketer with Assam. Das had even played with MS Dhoni during the early 2000s. In a strange turn of events, the latter’s son made his IPL debut against Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings.
IPL has been the starting point of an illustrious career to many a young Indian player. The likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will attest to that. But one can’t ignore the talent that has fallen on the wayside as well. Sarfaraz Khan, a promising young batsman who floats in an out of the KXIP side, comes to mind. It’s a dicey gamble with teenagers and only time will tell if they can build on the initial surge.
As for Parag, he may well end up enhancing his former coach Rahul Dravid’s already burgeoning reputation as coach. The last name to wrap up the IPL auctions this year, for the time being, is one of the first names on the Rajasthan Royals teamsheet.