Domestic cricket has not paused in the backdrop of India hosting the ICC ODI World Cup 2023. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) tournament has entered the knock-out stages with the quarter-final matches in progress.
SMAT has managed to steal some limelight amidst the World Cup frenzy, but for new good reason. A talented allrounder from Assam Riyan Parag, who plays for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, finds himself in the centre of the discussion alongside former India cricketer Ashok Malhotra. From a tasteless remark that stirred up a row to an on-field gesture that became viral on the internet, here is why the Assam vs Bengal Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 game has become the talk of the town.
Assam knock out Bengal
Captain Riyan Parag led from the front as Assam eliminated Bengal with a handsome eight-wicket win on Tuesday.
Electing to field first, Parag 2/23 and Akash Sengupta's 3/29 helped Assam restrict Bengal to a modest 138/8 in their 20 overs.
A few Bengal batters got starts but failed to convert them into big knocks. Karan Lal top-scored with 24 while opener Abhimanyu Easwaran made 21. Abhishek Porel made 23 and Kaushik Maity scored a late 21 not out.
Later, Bishal Roy (45 not out, 36 balls, 6x4s, 1x6s) and Parag finished the job for their side. Riyan Parag remained unbeaten on 50 off 31 balls and hit four sixes and two fours.
Riyan Parag's record-toppling form
To say the least, young Riyan Parag is having an extraordinary tournament. Tuesday's fifty against Bengal was his seventh consecutive half-century! Parag scored half-centuries against Bihar, Services, Sikkim, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh before smashing a record-breaking sixth fifty against Kerela on October 27, Friday. The 21-year-old was not done yet as he made it seven half-centuries during the encounter against Bengal.
Ashok Malhotra's controversial statement
Following Bengal's shock defeat to dark horses Assam, Ashok Malhotra -- who represented India in 7Tests and 20 ODIs before coaching Bengal -- stirred up a hornet's nest when he labelled the Assam players of his time as "second-class citizens".
"Humare zamane mein Assam ke team ko second-class citizens mana jata thaa (During my playing days, the Assam team was called second-class citizen," the former India international reportedly said on air.
The celebration and fuzz
After the contest against Bengal, a video of Parag gesturing towards the commentary box has gone viral on social media. With his gesture, Riyan Parag is understood to be conveying that the Assam team today is superior to their Bengal counterparts. We are at a different level above you -- the winning skipper is believed to have hinted. It is interpreted by some as an on the spot response to Ashok Malhotra.
Later on Wednesday, following a backlash, Malhotra apologised for the statement over X, formerly Twitter. "I apologise profusely if I have hurt Assam people’s sentiments with my comments during the Assam v Bengal game last evening. I am sorry. It was totally unintentional & was trying to speak about their progress. I regret it and give an unconditional apology," he jotted.
I apologise profusely if I have hurt Assam people’s sentiments with my comments during the Assam v Bengal game last evening. I am sorry. It was totally unintentional & was trying to speak about their progress. I regret it and give an unconditional apology.— Ashok Malhotra (@AshokMalhotra57) November 1, 2023
- With PTI inputs