At 34, former Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary talks with the passion of a new entrant in domestic cricket. He still polishes his skill set regularly and looks ahead to another decade with Bengal, while also trying to forget his ‘unexplained’ brief stint in international cricket. In an exclusive chat with Cricket.com, Bengal’s statesman engages in an intimate conversation around his international and domestic career. Here are the excerpts:
How was the feeling after scoring a triple century?
It feels really great because this is the first time I have scored a triple hundred. And scoring a triple hundred obviously has to be a special feeling because this is something all cricketers dream of. Some want a 100, then a 200…300 is something that is very rare these days because of the format of the Ranji Trophy as it ends in four days’ time. There is less time because the team wants to get an outright win. They have to declare in a particular time so that they can get the opposition out twice. Very happy that the 300 came when the Bengal team was in a bad position. It feels more special because the team registered an outright win.
There were times when you thought of leaving the Bengal team for better opportunities. What made you change your mind?
Playing for any other team is not something that has stayed in my mind regularly. There were times when certain things did not go my way and that’s when a lot of thoughts came to mind. A few years ago the thought of changing the state team did come to mind but deep down inside I always thought that the Bengal team has given me so much from the time I have represented them. And a Ranji trophy for Bengal is long overdue. And my aim has always been to give the Ranji Trophy to Bengal because it has been very long since we have won. Even though I am not the captain now, I still want to win the trophy as a player. So the thought of changing the team was for a very brief period. When you play for your home team you get a special feeling playing as a professional. No matter how much the other state welcomes you, the feeling will be that of an outsider. I take pride in playing for Bengal and have always taken my Bengal cap very seriously. Looking forward to continue.
Why do you think IPL teams always go for slam bang players? Can a cricketer which correct cricketing shots not do well in the tournament?
I have no idea actually. It is a question which you could ask those who select the players. I don’t know what they are looking for. Obviously in T20 format you need power hitting. And they have a trend of giving the youngsters a go who don’t have enough experience in First-Class cricket. It’s a good thing actually. Youngsters hit big shots in the IPL which comes good in other high-pressure situations. So there is nothing wrong in that. But as far as my position is concerned, I have no idea. I am still searching for the answer. It all boils down to your performances. How many runs you have scored or wickets you have taken. No matter how many interviews I give it won’t count. But I think at times that for people who pick IPL players, it is very important to identify the potential. Potential not only by looking at a youngster who is 19 years old. Look at his natural ability and just pick him. And the ability I am talking about here is the ability to perform under pressure. If a young player is able to perform under pressure consistently then I think he’s good for the high-pressure IPL. And we have seen on many occasions when cricketers have not been able to execute their shots in a high pressure game, which they are usually able to do in a low pressure game like the state level games.
Picking players is actually kind of a gamble. They say they want to invest in youngsters and want to give them four-five years’ time. In a way that is good but at the end of the day it is about winning the trophy. When the owners make a team they want to win the IPL trophy. So that’s the answer for you but like I said, in my case I am still looking for the answer.
I believe in my confidence to do well in high-pressure situations so at times I feel bad about not being picked by any IPL team. And it is not that I am scoring runs only in the Ranji Trophy. And I have done well in the IPL too. Stats are there to be seen.
Do you think the Team India management should have given you more chances at no. 4?
See I don’t know. I cannot answer for them. But you must have followed my career. After scoring a 100 at number four I was dropped for 14 games. It happened over a period of six months. I still don’t know what the reason behind it was. Maybe the management thought some other player would do the job better for them and that is okay. At the end of the day you have to move on. Even if you’re not in the playing XI, you are with the squad in some or the other role like serving drinks. So I was getting to be with the team. But at times when the thought comes I do feel bad. But the management must have taken the decision keeping in the mind the best interest for the team.
Any regrets of not playing Test cricket despite being a prolific performer in the Ranji Trophy?
I was very close to playing Test cricket. When the Australian team came for the India series, I scored 129 runs in the warm-up game in Chennai against the likes of Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. And also when England came I scored the highest for India A – 93 runs at the CCI, Mumbai. But somehow I still don’t have the answer to why I wasn’t picked. I don’t know what went wrong in my case. I still average more than 51 in First-Class cricket and I have not played any Test match for India. And there has been no communication from the selectors. Had there been any communication I would have told you what went wrong. You need to ask those who were the selectors at that point of time.
You once picked four wickets in an ODI with your leg-spin. Do you think you can contribute in the IPL with not just your batting but with your bowling too?
Kar toh sakta hu (I can do). In international cricket I have taken four wickets. I can do everything actually. I’ve kept wickets for 22 overs in a domestic game. I can bowl leg-spin, off-spin and medium-pace and I have got results as well. So I let the captain of any team decide what all they want to utilise from me. I keep myself available for all roles according to the pitch. A good captain is someone who will understand the player’s potential and know when which role can be utilised the best.
Been long since Bengal won the Ranji Trophy. What’s going wrong?
During my captaincy of four years – one year we played the quarter-finals and one year we played the semi-finals. Last year we did not qualify because we needed an outright win in the last game and that did not happen. This season we still have an advantage because we will play Delhi at home from the 27th. And then we have a game against Rajasthan and Punjab each. We have beaten Punjab twice under my captaincy. So let’s see. It all boils down to how good you perform on the match day.
What is the secret to your unbreakable confidence?
At a very young age I have seen a lot of things in life which made me very strong mentally. I have seen my mom and dad go through very tough times. Seeing all their difficulties with my eyes made me realise that I have to contribute something in this life, do something so that everything falls into place. I learnt how to deal with tough times. Through all these years, that is how to confidence developed within me. I have always said that confidence is the biggest strength. Whether I score a duck or a 100, I approach the next game with the same confidence. I keep practicing and improving my skill set. I try to avoid negativity. These days on social media people write a lot of negative things. Despite all this you need to know how to be in the right frame of mind. Otherwise you will get distracted very easily.
There are many challenges on the field too. Nowadays barring a few venues there are no good wickets. Every team plays for an outright win. So depending on the team’s strength they prepare a green top or a rank turner. There is nothing like a good wicket. So all these challengers are also there but that’s the interesting part. I normally look ahead to challenges. Happy that I have been able to contribute to Bengal cricket all these years and would want to contribute more.
Sourav Ganguly recently said that domestic players will be given central contracts. How important is this for all of you?
Central contracts are very important. I hope this is executed. Payment should increase because if one player is playing the whole year he hardly makes enough money. Although for some newcomers who come from lower middle class families, for them it is okay. But overall if you see the broader picture, what we get is less. So we just have to wait and watch for the proposal to get executed.
Tell us about being asked to quit captaincy.
They were offering me split captaincy. They asked me to do T20 and 50 overs and were giving Abhimanyu the Ranji Trophy captaincy. So I was like whoever you guys pick, just make sure that he is the captain in all formats because it becomes easier for the captain and the rest of the players. Split captaincy would have created groups in the team unnecessarily and that would not have been good for the atmosphere.
But talking about my captaincy days, for me it wasn’t all about winning the trophy, it was also about seeing the growth of the players. I am happy about the fact that all the youngsters who came during my captaincy have reached a stage where they are right now. From the back I am helping Abhimanyu whenever it is required because as a senior member I have to do that and I am enjoying it.