Manoj Tiwary drove Mihir Hirwani through the covers to reach his 25th first-class hundred. He raised his bat like a rapier. With arms aloft, he jumped and punched the air. It felt like a strong statement to the naysayers.
Tiwary was under pressure to perform. To some observers, the Bengal team mentor Arun Lal’s buzzword for the players — perform or perish — was basically aimed at the skipper. He was given two matches by the state association to prove his mettle. Tiwary responded with an unbeaten 201 on the second day of the Ranji Trophy Elite, Group B match against Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. It was his fifth double century at this level and according to him, his second best. The 210 that he scored here against Mumbai in 2006 still tops the list.
He let his bat do the talking and then spoke with a hint of sarcasm. “Hopefully I won’t be dropped after this. First, I heard my captaincy is under the scanner. Then, I heard I could be dropped. Yes, a response was due,” he told reporters after the day’s play.
Tiwary is the unlucky one in Indian cricket. Right from his shoulder injury on the eve of his ODI debut in Bangladesh in 2007 to the inexplicable Duleep Trophy and/or India A omission earlier this year, he has never been afforded the rub of the green.
Injuries had been a major reason why his international career didn’t take wings. “I don’t know why injuries are chasing me,” Tiwary once said.
Deep down, there has been some anger. But he has channelised it into positive energy. At times, his patience snapped. He wasn’t picked for the quadrangular series involving Australia A and South Africa A despite the fact he had the highest-ever List A average – 126.70 — in a single domestic season in India last term. He had scored 507 runs in the 2017-18 season, the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Deodhar Trophy combined. Tiwary questioned the benchmark for selection.
Last season, Tiwary also led Bengal to the Ranji Trophy semifinal. But after being pilloried for a poor Vijay Hazare campaign this term, he thought about quitting captaincy. “I’m used to criticism. I believe in straight-talking. I can be diplomatic. But that’s not me. I never fight for my personal benefit. I always fight for my team. Whatever happened this season could have been avoided. But we have moved on,” said Tiwary on Tuesday, a day before he turns 34.
His fifth double century in first-class cricket was made even more special, with his mother watching from the directors’ box. Tiwary also played with a bat that had his son’s name, Yuvaan, engraved on it. He paced his innings beautifully and also farmed the strike while batting with the tail-enders. When Ashok Dinda got out and Bengal were nine down, Tiwary was on 166. He scored his next 35 runs off just 29 deliveries, hitting three fours and two sixes. The skipper was appreciative of Ishan Porel’s application at the other end, although the youngster faced just five balls. Tiwary shielded him well.
The Madhya Pradesh bowling attack comprising Ishwar Pandey, Kuldeep Sen, Avesh Khan, Ankit Sharma and Mihir Hirwani was no pushover. The pitch, too, was a little two-paced. Tiwary had to deal with a negative line – wide outside the off stump – from the bowlers, spinners especially. He switched to an off stump guard and targeted the arc between deep mid-wicket and long-on. He also opened his stance a little, which allowed him to free his arms.
The misunderstanding with the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) hierarchy was basically down to the communication gap. After a poor Vijay Hazare Trophy, CAB president Sourav Ganguly took a tough-love approach. “You have to perform. Our goal is to win the Ranji Trophy,” Ganguly always maintained.
A clear the air meeting ahead of the Madhya Pradesh game helped Tiwary understand that. And Ganguly raved about the captain’s double ton today. “Manoj is very dear to us,” he said.
Brief scores: Bengal first innings 510/9 decl. in 149.3 overs (Manoj Tiwary 201*; Shubham Sharma 5/59) vs Madhya Pradesh 15/0 in 10 overs