By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, April 27 (IANS) Before their match against Rajasthan Royals, all eyes were on their usual suspects with the bat: Jos Buttler in blazing form and Shimron Hetmyer providing the finishing fireworks. But against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Pune, neither Buttler nor Hetmyer went big.
On a two-paced sluggish pitch, majority of Rajasthan’s batters struggled. But not Riyan Parag. The all-rounder walked in when Sanju Samson’s sparkling stay came to an end with Wanindu Hasaranga ratting his off-stump. It was a make-or-break moment for both Rajasthan and Parag.
Since his entry into the Rajasthan fold, Parag had shown glimpses of what he can offer as an all-rounder. Things hit a tough end when Parag had a horror time in 2021, making just 93 runs at an average of just 11.62.
Despite the horrors of 2021, Rajasthan again signed him up in the mega auction. But the start wasn’t promising for Parag with the bat and social media trolls were breathing down his neck. For Parag, 20, the scenario against Bangalore was his time to repay the faith of Rajasthan on him.
He began by whipping Shahbaz Ahmed for a wristy six at long-on, followed by dancing down the pitch and drilling the four the through bowler’s hands in the 11th over. Parag would then be at the crease for 12-18 overs period when Rajasthan got no boundaries, made 31 runs and lost three wickets.
But Parag stepped up in time, hammering Josh Hazlewood flat over extra cover for six in the 19th over. On the very next ball, he miscued the pull and Wanindu Hasaranga made a mess of a sitter at extra cover.
From being dropped at 32, Parag tore into death overs specialist Harshal Patel in the final over, heaving through deep square leg for a four followed by a soaring six over extra cover to raise his second IPL fifty in 29 balls. Parag finished off the innings by muscling a pull over deep mid-wicket to get his best-ever score in IPL as 30 runs came off the last two overs.
“The Royals have shown faith in me for the last three years, and I am paying them back bit by bit. I love pressure and I am just showcasing my abilities. During the time-out, Sanga came out and we agreed that 140 was a good total on this wicket. We decided to go big in the last two overs. I wanted to target Hasaranga in his second over, but we lost wickets, and so I had to strategise and go after Hazlewood and Harshal,” were Parag’s words after the match.
In defence of 144, Kuldeep Sen again impressed with his hard lengths and ability to get extra bounce off the pitch. With the sluggish nature of the pitch, Sen was hard to hit. He bowled a little outside off to du Plessis, who could slap straight to a jumping cover.
For Glenn Maxwell, Sen had set up the field for a bouncer — deep point, third man, fine leg and deep square leg. It pushed Maxwell on the backfoot and what came from Sen was a length ball pitching outside off which Maxwell could only nick to slip and depart for a golden duck.
When Ravichandran Ashwin came in to bowl after having a go in powerplay, Rajat Patidar and Shahbaz Ahmed had injected some momentum in Bangalore’s innings and were trying to steady things up after losing the top-order in powerplay. Sen then came at the end to clean up the tail when the result was a foregone conclusion.
Ashwin mixed his lines and variations before firing in a carrom ball from wide of the crease which skid through from a good length to go past Patidar’s attempted cut and uproot his off-stump. For Prabhudessai, Ashwin fired outside off thrice before giving him a tossed-up one which he could hit straight to long-on.
Ahmed was tempted into playing the release shot on a short ball, only to see Parag dive in from long-off and take a stunning catch. Apart from picking wickets, Ashwin kept the batters on a tight leash and never gave any breathing space for them to run away with the game. It was a match where two uncapped Indian players and a senior pro turned the match in different scenarios to take Rajasthan to a 29-run win and on top of the points table.