Did Parag deserve World Cup selection or is it a hindsight discussion?

Riyan Parag in action
Riyan Parag in action (PC: X)

At the start of this year, Riyan Parag seemed to be on some kind of a  mission. He had already accumulated mountains of runs in limited overs matches for Assam. But he still had some unfinished business to complete in the longest format of the game — Ranji Trophy. In one of the Ranji games versus Chhattisgarh, Parag had to walk out to bat with his side in dire straits – Assam were forced to follow on, and in the second innings, they were 78 for 2.

In such circumstances, Parag proceeded to crunch a superlative hundred. He did it in some style, too, ending up with the second-fastest ton in the history of that tournament. While watching the highlights, it felt as if a different version of Parag was exploring every nook and cranny of the ground,  a batter with an insatiable hunger. 

He has carried forward that kind of zeal and voracious appetite for runs into IPL 2024. If his innings of 45 versus Lucknow Super Giants was an indicator of things to come, then his spellbinding 84 against Delhi Capitals reaffirmed the fact that Parag had matured as a cricketer. He didn’t just aggregate those runs at a strike rate of 186.87. But if you remove a little bit of the outside coating, then it could be observed that he was akin to a lone warrior amid the ruins. None of the other batters crossed the 30-run mark. The top three batters in the line-up didn’t even surpass 20 runs. 

Significantly, even at the back-end of the tournament, Parag has continued to play in a similar fashion – He top-scored for his franchise in a couple of games, where RR slid to losses. And then in the Eliminator match on Wednesday, Parag steadied the innings with a resolute hand of 36.

Although he did play a rather ordinary shot to be dismissed, it was his partnership with Shimron Hetmyer that paved the way for RR to carve out a route to Qualifier 2.

Parag’s stellar IPL season also makes one wonder whether he deserved a spot in India’s squad for the forthcoming ICC T20 World Cup. After all, Parag isn’t just the third highest run-getter in the tournament, but he has also soaked up the pressure when his side has found itself in some trouble. However, there is a caveat or two attached to it. 

The squad was picked on April 29. At that stage of the IPL, Parag had a tick over 330 runs to his name. Hypothetically, if the committee had discussed Parag’s credentials on the selection table, they would have made a small note against him – He has started well, but can he maintain that level of consistency? It also has to be remembered that this is the first time Parag has compiled more than 200 runs in an IPL. 

Secondly, Parag’s success has come at the No.4 slot. In the Indian team, a couple of names have already been penciled in for that position. Against that backdrop, the selectors were looking at a few other jigsaws to complete the puzzle. Although India have probably picked one spinner too many. In an imaginary sense, instead of Yuzvendra Chahal, they could have taken either  Rinku Singh or Parag. The former didn’t just take his game to a different plane in IPL 2023 but also went on to shine brightly in the shortest format for his country. Unfortunately, his form has nosedived in the current season. 

When you also throw in the fact that India’s previous left-field selection  – Suryakumar Yadav making it to the 50-over World Cup – didn’t exactly light up the tournament with his willow, one can understand why the selectors played safe with Parag. The future, though, looks bright for Parag. He always had dollops of potential. Parag has now stapled the skill part with a bit of steel.