A 20-year-old cricketer seems to be enjoying his job. He wears his heart on his sleeve, takes blinders on the field, can clear the boundary with ease, and bowl spin to some degrees. But more importantly, he can even bring to the surface the deepest insecurities of middle-aged men: the growing fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. And thus, he should be punished. Commentators are already losing sleep over every minute antics of Riyan Parag in the Indian Premier League.

The basic gist of their criticism is that Riyan Parag should play cricket alone, and the first rule of playing cricket is to take the game seriously. Other things like having fun, getting emotional, and posting pictures to gazillions of followers can wait. Playing cricket is not a mere job; it is a noble act, and Parag is not merely earning his livings, but also fulfilling a call of duty, and any moments of frivolity and glee must be resisted. 

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They still think of this game as some kind of civilising force, which is funny, as most of them came from an era when cricket was at its peak of debauchery. Their criticisms reek of a conservative upbringing that often demands a child to sacrifice all worldly pleasures until he secures his livelihood. It would have been acceptable if Parag was already an established cricketer, but for a newbie to have fun on the ground is a sin. 

Amidst the ceaseless noise of objections, there’s no space for a vulnerability to creep in. Actions and motives are often judged in retrospect, for it allows both scribes and fans to connect the dots and form a simplistic narrative. If Parag’s career trajectory doesn’t show an upward rise in the upcoming years, there will lot of nonsensical analysis pinning his slump on his demeanor, both on and off the field. 

At 20, Parag is asked to play the most difficult role in the T20s for Rajasthan Royals. As a finisher, there’s never enough time for him to get settled. The game situation allows him to attack or perish, and he does exactly that. Three weeks ago, he slammed 56 off just 31 deliveries to snatch the victory from Royal Challengers Bangalore. 

There’s a reason why India has perennially struggled to find a perfect finisher for their T20 setup. It is an incredibly difficult, luck-oriented role, and mastering that requires time. With time you will see more such innings from Parag. But for time being he should be just allowed to exist.

A few weeks ago, Simon Doull questioned Rajasthan Royals’ decision to play Riyan Parag, who he thinks has a very modest record. There’s nothing wrong with that, but his next point about Parag’s entertaining social media presence dilutes the whole point of his criticism.

When Doull was called out on Twitter, he reiterated: “The social media says to me he is popular and well liked but that doesn’t count when he is in the middle. Runs and strike rate is his currency and IMO it’s not good enough.”

It’s not that Parag is oblivious to the truth. He knows that his cheeky tweets and groovy dance moves will not make him better at his work. What he also knows is that he has a life outside cricket. He plays cricket for a living, but hitting or grabbing a ball doesn’t define him as a whole. Much of the criticisms have stemmed because he is not having a great season in the IPL. His batting form has very little to do with his expressive personality. This is what sports do; the cold numbers give viewers full impunity to segregate the complexity of any cricketing career into two boxes: Good or Bad. 

It’s strange how debates about ethics and acceptable moral conventions have been centered around a young cricketer from Assam. A few days ago, Riyan Parag faced the fury for his celebration against Sunrisers Hyderabad. After taking the catch, Parag lowered his hands and held it just above the ground. It was a totally harmless celebration, but still, it managed to rile up Matthew Hayden, the former Australia cricketer currently on a commentary gig for the IPL. 

“I have got some advice for you young man, cricket is very very long game and we all have very long memories. Never ever tempt fate because it comes around quickly,” said Hayden. 

The very essence of the game lies in the fact that it allows different characters to express themselves under certain pre-defined parameters. Some bowlers do fist-pumps to celebrate the wicket, some blow a kiss to the departing batter, and some just complete their run-up and stand still, allowing the teammates to embrace him. There’s no right or wrong way. Every human reacts differently to the same situation. Riyan Parag deserves a bit of empathy from the cricketing world, a bit of space from the fans, and a bit of time to prove himself on the world stage. 

Featured Image Credit: Rajasthan Royals