Around this time last year, Manoj Tiwary was in two minds - whether to hang up his boots or continue playing for another season? Bengal had just been knocked out of the Ranji Trophy after going down to Madhya Pradesh in the semifinals and the then coach Arun Lal decided to move on.
Amid uncertainty, Tiwary had a long conversation with his old colleague and the new Bengal head coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla about the road ahead. Having played together for years, Shukla managed to convince Tiwary to carry on for another season and together, they dreamed of breaking the Ranji Trophy title jinx.
Tiwary listened to ‘LR’ - as Shukla is fondly known as - and decided to pad up for another domestic season, with a renewed hope of guiding Bengal to the Ranji Trophy title win.
He was back as the captain and pairing with some of the old warhorses - including Anustup Majumdar - Tiwary and Shukla duo did manage to live their dreams as Bengal once again reached the final, before going down to Saurashtra in the final at the Eden Gardens in February.
Before walking in for the toss, Tiwary - back in his head - knew that this would be his last outing with the Bengal team, but to ensure that the focus wasn’t lost, he decided to wait.
“At the start of the season, I did say that if I lift the trophy, I will hang up my boots. But till the time we have reached the final, a lot of people who love my game - also the coach and the other staff - wanted me to carry on for another couple of seasons,” Tiwary had told Sportstar then.
While he waited for the final to get over, Tiwary was aware of the fact that at 37, it may not be possible for him to continue for far too long. So, a few weeks ago, he had informally informed his old friends and colleagues that he is moving on.
Over the last few years, he had only made himself available for red-ball cricket in a bid to manage his workload. But ahead of every Ranji Trophy season, he made it a point to be in the ‘best possible shape’.
“Cricket is a muscle memory game and it is important to train hard and do the basics right,” he said.
“At the end of the day, you need to have a clear thinking and be in the right space. Whenever I bat, I go out with a proper planning and that helps me execute things better. It helps me in my shot selection and that’s why despite playing a match with limited practice, I could score runs because in the end, it was about application and trusting my game.”
Throughout his career, that has been Tiwary’s mantra of success. Despite playing for India for the last time in 2015 - when a second-string side toured Zimbabwe for an ODI series - Tiwary never gave up.
Season after season, he continued to play for Bengal and stamp his class in the domestic tournaments. Until a few years back, he also featured in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and played a key role in guiding the now-defunct Rising Pune Super Giant to the final in 2017.
“I always believe that you should do something in life for which people will remember you and get inspired,” he said.
So, when he entered politics and won the Shibpur assembly constituency on a Trinamool Congress ticket in the West Bengal Assembly elections in 2021, it was about leading by example. And, for the next two seasons, even as he played first-class cricket, Tiwary managed to strike a right balance between his game and his responsibility as West Bengal’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports.
Even on cricket tours, one could see Tiwary taking out time to clear the files or sign important documents. That was his style of getting things done.
“I have a lot of responsibility as a public servant, and I am doing everything possible to serve the people of my constituency. I visit the areas regularly and spend a lot of time with the locals. I enjoy this role. But at the same time, I also prepare for the Ranji Trophy and want to put in my best efforts for the team,” he had said.
On Thursday, however, he ended his long and illustrious first-class career with over 9,000 runs at an average of 48-plus, with 29 hundreds and 45 fifties and a highest score of 303 not out.
Back in 2004, when Tiwary broke into the Bengal team, many thought he would be the next big thing in Bengal cricket and even though he failed to cement his place in the Indian team, despite scoring an unbeaten 104 against the West Indies in Chennai in 2011, he managed to carve a niche for himself and continued to inspire several young cricketers from the State.
Season after season, he padded up, partnered with younger team-mates with the sole objective of guiding Bengal to its second Ranji Trophy title since 1990. He gave it his all, even though the dream remained unfulfilled.
To shrug off the disappointments and motivate yourself each time wasn’t easy, especially when there’s no motivation. But Tiwary, true to his reputation, did it perfectly. You could spot him at the jogging track early in the morning and then find him sweating it out at the indoor nets late in the evening.
And ever since becoming a minister, he would keep his pads and the gloves in the backseat of his car, along with some files of the sports department. That’s the real Manoj Tiwary - a fighter at heart and a thoroughly dedicated professional.
Here’s to a fulfilling second innings. Thanks for the memories!
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