Manoj Tiwarys routine ever since he landed in Sri Lanka two weeks ago has been the same. Its in fact been his ritual since the tour to Australia earlier in the year. A period in which hes also been to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup in April as the eternal reserve.
It begins with Tiwary bowling a lengthy spell of leg-spin to the more established Indian batsmen in the nets. And its only when the rest have almost begun packing their kit-bags that the right-hander from Bengal gets to put on his pads and to face a few deliveries from the net bowlers.
Its been a frustrating ride,not surprisingly,for Tiwary over the last six months. Many have called for his inclusion in the final XI,but the 26-year-old batsman has continued to warm the bench. This despite the repeated failures of his competitors for the middle-order slot. And not to forget that Tiwary scored his maiden ton a brisk unbeaten 104 against the West Indies at Chennai in his last international outing.
Rohit Sharma has averaged a disappointing 15.60 in 11 ODIs this year,with only one half-century to boast of,on the other hand. He has somehow though managed to hang onto his spot. But the walls might just be closing in on Sharma after his golden duck in the third ODI against the Lankans preceded by scores of 5 and 0 in the first two matches. Tiwary might just get his look-in after all. At least for now,his chances have brightened thanks to his fellow right-handers horror run of scores.
On the eve of the fourth ODI,Tiwary finally got his first chance to bat during the crunch period of Indias practice session at the R Premadasa Stadium. Ironically,batting alongside him in the neighbouring net was Sharma,who for once looked to be in a defensive mood. In contrast to his usual freestyle stroke-making in the nets,the Mumbai batsman seemed more intent on getting his foot to the pitch of the ball and blocking it.
Sharma has been at the receiving end of some serious flak for a major part of his career. Theories of partiality shown towards him have never been far away. Increasingly so,since hes already gotten 83 ODIs to prove his talent whereas Tiwarys international career is stuck at six one-dayers and a solitary T20.
Tiwary though has mastered the art of disguising his frustration. He turns up confident of scoring a final XI appearance prior to every outing with the national team. Only Tiwary,however,can explain the trauma and the desperation to get a go that a perennial bench-warmer like him has to undergo.
A few days earlier,Mahendra Singh Dhoni had spoken about how tough it was to drop a player who had just scored a century. You always back youngsters but what is important is that in the process you are not coming in the way of somebody else who is sitting on the bench. It is something that we need to decide,make a conscious attempt to be honest to yourself and not commit any harm to any other player, the Indian captain had explained after India lost to Sri Lanka in their second ODI at Hambantota. Possibly he was referring to the Sharma-Tiwary conundrum.
Tiwary made his debut against Australia back in 2008,on the second day after his late arrival in Brisbane. It was the same series in which Sharma made a name for himself as a potential superstar. Since then,Tiwary has got to play in back-to-back matches only on one occasion in the Caribbean last year.
And he had to overcome some severe rustiness developed in Australia and Bangladesh when he turned up for Kolkata Knight Riders. That is before he quickly packed his bags again for the Caribbean as part of the India A squad.
Gautam Gambhir,his IPL captain,is hopeful that Tiwarys chance will come. But at the same time,the opener insisted that Sharma deserves the long rope. Its not too long back that Gambhir and Tiwary were celebrating the Knight Riderss maiden IPL triumph in grand style. It was Tiwarys boundary after all that sealed the most memorable of victories. His chance at producing similar heroics in Team India colours ,however,has remained elusive.
Whether Tiwary does get his overdue shot at adding to the limited exposure hes garnered so far in a career that has lasted four-and-a-half-years or not,the Indians anyway will be more focused on sealing the series before they head towards Pallekele.
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