‘I am a firm believer in destiny’

K. PICHUMANI

“My upbringing had struggles involved, I have seen my family struggle; so I know my priorities. My first and biggest priority is cricket,” says Manoj Tiwary in this interview with Arun Venugopal.

Manoj Tiwary is relaxing in his hotel room in Chennai after a long but satisfying day at work. The 27-year-old batsman from Bengal had scored a polished 129 for India ‘A’ against the visiting Australian side in the morning. As Sportstar catches up with Tiwary, his eyes are fixated to the second Test match between Pakistan and South Africa that’s heading towards a thrilling denouement.

“I try and observe things. I observe how great captains set fields and stuff like that,” says Tiwary, who has been part of the India side in eight ODIs and three T20Is. Within minutes of the interview having commenced, it becomes clear that the man from Howrah doesn’t pull any punches. In an age of political correctness, Tiwary is remarkably direct. “There’s nothing off the record, ” laughs Tiwary as he speaks about his game, the evolution of Bengal cricket, handling fame, and his personal life.

Excerpts:

Question: When did you take up the game seriously?

Answer: It was at the age of 12. In school, cricket was one of the sports I played and was made captain of the team as well. My coach noticed my ability and asked my brother, Raj, to put me in one of those coaching camps. I was fortunate to get a good coach. It was destined to happen because I was given a time slot that didn’t suit me. I had to change the timing so that I could accommodate my schooling. So I got to train under Manabendra Ghosh in a two-hour coaching batch. From that day onwards, he’s helped in every step of my journey

Tell us about your days as a junior cricketer. To what extent has the game impacted your life?

If cricket hadn’t been there, I would have been struggling in some other field. Right from my childhood, it was the passion for the game that motivated me. I come from a middle-class family and it was difficult for my father, who’s a railway employee, to manage the expenses. One thing I am really proud about is he made me and my two brothers study in English medium (schools) despite the high fee-structure. I went to St. Thomas Church School in Howrah.

When I was selected in the Bengal under-16 side, I used to receive match fees. I realised if I played regularly for Bengal, money wouldn’t be a problem. So I made it a point to not let go of cricket as a career, which was there to stay alongside my love for the game. I never looked back after I broke into the under-16 team. Nowadays, there’s a lot of money through match fees and IPL contracts. My family is in a comfortable position now. God has been kind.

Speaking of IPL contracts, how much has the IPL experience helped you?

I played for Delhi Daredevils in IPL-1 but I didn’t get my preferred batting slot. But I have no complaints because the top three batsmen — Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and Shikhar Dhawan — were in supreme form then. As someone who was in the fringes of the Indian team, I wanted to bat in a position that would help me make an impact. I was in good form in the domestic season in the lead-up to IPL-2, but unfortunately during the first match, I broke my finger and missed the rest of the tournament.

Then, I was looking to go to a franchise where I could bat higher. Coincidentally, KKR didn’t have a good domestic batsman. One day, Sourav Ganguly approached me in the gym and told me they were looking for one. I lost Rs. 30 lakh when I was traded but I was ready to sacrifice that. While I was told I would get to bat at No.3 or 4, there wasn’t a slot and I had to open. It wasn’t easy initially but I took on the challenge. Lately, the KKR management has been really helpful especially Gambhir bhai, who gave me my preferred batting spot. My performances there helped me find a place for the West Indies tour. It’s been a good experience overall.

Has your success changed the way people in the neighbourhood look at you?

It hasn’t changed as such. People in my locality love and respect me. They also appreciate the way I have come up the hard way. I always try to spend some time with them.

Having reached a certain level, how difficult is it to not be distracted by the fame and riches that come with it?

My upbringing had struggles involved, I have seen my family struggle; so I know my priorities. If I am a little careless, then everything will be gone. It’s not easy but I try to remain disciplined, and I know my limits. My first and biggest priority is cricket.

Much has been said about your habit of watching inspirational videos…

I derive motivation by watching videos that show the triumph of human spirit. My favourite is the 400m race in the 1992 Olympics that Derek Redmond eventually completed despite tearing his hamstring.

Were there times when you felt you deserved to be in the side but weren’t picked?

Whenever I got an opportunity, I did really well. Whenever I wasn’t picked, I wasn’t doing well. You will have to look at other aspects as well; there are others who are just as deserving.

When you see some of your peers doing well for India while you aren’t included, how much does that hurt? How do you overcome it?

There is a lot of competition in every aspect of sport. But I am very happy, when I keep my selfishness aside and see our players doing well. I am a firm believer in destiny. If I am destined to play, then I will. Otherwise, nobody can make me play. Personally, it doesn’t occupy my mind (about other players getting selected ahead of me) but when you go back home and your friends start speaking about it, then I think about it. I am a human being too, after all.

How do you manage to remain frank in an era where anything remotely controversial gets blown out of proportions?

I see a lot of people trying to be politically correct but I try to give honest replies. While doing so, I do, at times, make people unhappy. But it’s ok as long as I am honest to myself. There are a few seniors who keep advising me to exercise control over what I comment on. But if I keep controlling everything, then how would people know who I am?

So you express yourself on social networking sites such as Twitter?

I like interacting with — I wouldn’t call them fans but I prefer the word friends. Because they love and care for you and take time out to message you. Those two or three minutes that they spend to type out a message make a lot of difference. It makes me happy and I try my best to reply to everyone.

How do you take your mind off cricket?

I like to stick around with a small group of friends. I don’t have a large group of friends as I don’t trust people easily. If I can’t give time to friends, there’s no point in making friends just for the sake of it. I have got a girlfriend, Sushmita and I spend time with her too.

Marriage is on the cards? This year, hopefully. What are the other sports that interest you?

I love soccer. I am not a fan of the Kolkata derby although it’s very big there and a few of my friends play in the league. The standard isn’t high but I won’t blame the players. The problem is with the infrastructure in India. I am a fan of Manchester United. I like Real Madrid because of Cristiano Ronaldo.

What’s your fitness regimen like?

I follow whatever schedule my trainer gives me. As far as diet is concerned, I am blessed with good metabolism. Touchwood, I don’t put on to much weight. At home, I enjoy eating Suji ka Halwa and Mishti Dhoi.

Coming back to Bengal cricket, do you see things improving with the emergence of yourself, Wriddhiman Saha, Ashoke Dinda, and Mohammad Shami?

There are many areas that need improvement so that you can see many more Sourav Gangulys in the future. If you listen to Dinda’s tales of struggle, mine’s nothing compared to that. He would sleep at the railway station so that he could catch the early morning train to attend the camp. Players in Bengal have got talent but they need to be more disciplined and have better work ethic. There has to be a system in place. Right now, we have got four players from our State playing for India, even if it’s on and off. Our best chance of winning the Ranji Trophy is in the next four or five years.

Where does Manoj Tiwary see himself 10 years down the line?

I don’t have long term plans although I want to be a good human being and a successful cricketer.