The evolving of Tiwary!

The Bengal captain, Manoj Tiwary, has been through a lot of ups and downs. But he is still confident of an India comeback

Tiwary, who turned out for Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 2017, has realised that strike rate counts a lot when someone evaluates a T20 batsman. So, he has speeded up his rate of run-gathering, now.   -  PTI

Minutes before this conversation starts at a plush Kolkata hotel, Manoj Tiwary makes it a point to call up his mother and inform her that he would be late. “This is an old habit,” he says. As he puts the phone on silent mode, the Bengal Ranji Trophy captain admits that responsibilities are increasing after his father’s death. “It’s teaching me how to be patient,” he says.

Just after one game in the Indian Premier League, Tiwary lost his father. But overcoming the personal loss, the swashbuckling batsman re-joined the Rising Pune Supergiants’ camp. Not only he did he make his presence felt, but also ensured that his team reached the final. While he still laments Pune’s defeat in the last over, Tiwary sounds confident about making it to Team India again.

And on a rainy evening in Kolkata, Tiwary is in full flow for Sportstar.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: There is a common belief in the Indian cricket circuit that Manoj Tiwary is an extremely talented cricketer, but has an attitude problem. How do you react to that?

Answer: I don’t know why people had that perception of me being too arrogant. May be, I came across as an arrogant player, but that was never the intention. I never wanted to portray myself as someone arrogant. It’s just that I was confident of my abilities. My body language would reflect that. Since the U-19 days, I was not somebody who would back down under pressure. I have seen a lot of struggles in my family.

But there were circumstances where I was not sure about how people concerned would take the matter. When you are young, you are scared to tell the truth. Even while giving small suggestions, you are scared. If you say something, people would target you. Yes, may be, you are right. Those experiences have taught me a lot. I am more mature now. But even then, I listen to my inner conscience. I listen to my wife, and listen to suggestions. At the end of the day, I listen to what my heart says. I have never been someone who would only think about himself. I have always thought of contributing to my team and also help people outside cricket. There are a lot of things that need to be done.

But yes, with age, I have learnt how to be careful. I have learnt when to speak and when to stay out of others’ comfort zone. Everyone is under pressure…

Cricketers are always kept on a high pedestal. Has that created a wrong impression about you?

That’s what happens. Things are often blown out of proportion. I would partly blame it on the media. All they want is controversy.

Manoj Tiwary’s wife Sushmita has had a very positive influence on him.   -  PTI

What about your strained relationship with Gautam Gambhir? Would you accept that things are not good between you two, or would you again blame it on the media?

(Nods his head) People have a perception of me getting involved in such heated arguments unnecessarily. But that was not the case. These days, each and every domestic match gets recorded. Everybody can watch the video and find out what exactly happened between me and Gauti bhai on that October afternoon in 2015. (The two got into a spat during a Ranji Trophy match between Bengal and Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla in 2015.)

Moreover, at the Kotla in Delhi, the people from the media sit inside the ground, so the voices can be heard clearly. So, everybody knows who did what on that particular afternoon.

But there was a time you were considered quite close to Gambhir. What actually went wrong?

I never understood what actually happened between me and Gauti bhai. I have often asked myself, but have never got the answer. To be honest, I have always enjoyed my stint with Kolkata Knight Riders. We had good memories, but I don’t know what went wrong (and why was I released). May be, the KKR management knows better why they left me out of the team.

I was the one who suggested to Gauti bhai to pick a lot of players. In fact, I was the one who told him to go for Sunil Narine. I had seen Sunil bowl to Rohit Sharma during one of India’s matches against the West Indies. I also spoke about Debabrata Das. I had told Gauti bhai to pick Debabrata in the local catchment slot though the latter had a lack of confidence. I asked Gauti bhai to instil confidence in Debabrata.

And Debabrata hit a winning boundary off Ashwin in KKR’s match against CSK in 2012 and for carrying the team over the line, Gauti bhai gave Debabrata the Man of the Match award, which had been given to him (Gauti). That was a great thing. But I don’t know what went wrong.

I always had great admiration and respect for Gauti bhai. May be, there were a few people around him who didn’t like my proximity to him. May be, the relationship soured because of that. I know for a fact that some people were not too happy with our bonding. May be, they could have influenced him.

You are back in business again with a decent outing in the Ranji Trophy and the Indian Premier League (IPL) with Rising Pune Supergiant. How do you see this trend?

It’s a great feeling. I would thank Sanjeev Goenka and Rising Pune Supergiant for the opportunity. They were the only ones who showed faith in me. May be, Mr. (Sourav) Ganguly too had a role to play behind my selection, because he is always someone who has given me the confidence. When the auction happened, I was not picked the first two times. I was thinking, why isn’t anyone picking me up? In the Deodhar Trophy, I had a great outing. I was sure that somebody would pick me, but that didn’t happen. I was constantly thinking as to where I had gone wrong. That was an eye opener. So, when I went for the IPL, I made it a point to maintain a higher strike rate. Because I have realised that these days nobody notices how you perform in a situation. It’s all about maintaining a high strike rate. That was the change I brought in my mindset.

Over the years, you have played for Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and Rising Pune Supergiant. There have been superstars alongside such as Dhoni, Smith, Gambhir and Sehwag. Have you learnt anything from them?

I am more concerned about developing my skills. As far as learning from them is concerned, it is about proving yourself. It’s all about how you perform on match days and pick up a thing or two from them. They have done the same in their career. You don’t see any pressure on them in the IPL. I have always been a good observer, and I have made it a point to follow them closely during the tournament. I have always believed in myself, and I believe that self-learning helps a cricketer grow. But then, listening to them also has its benefits. That has made me understand a lot of things.

Look, I may not look pretty on the screen, but I know how to score runs. (Laughs) I have my own style of picking up runs. So, I try and improve on my skills. The thing that these superstars have taught me is how not to get distracted by what the critics or the media are talking about you. Initially, I would get distracted, but now, I have realised that at that time there was no mature person or senior cricketer to guide me.

Do you rue missing a guide early in your career?

Not in terms of performance, but somebody should have guided me on how to avoid controversies. I wish somebody had told me that it is wise not to spend energy on controversies and instead focus on cricket. That would have definitely helped me then.

Talking about Bengal cricket, there are quite a few youngsters who have proved their mettle. Being the captain, how do you see yourself relating with them?

I don’t see myself just as a captain, rather I try to play the role of an elder brother. I am a senior player, who has more experience than all of them. I want to guide them accordingly. The players are really good in terms of quality, so it is my duty to ensure that these youngsters don’t face the situations that I had to go through. After scoring a century, I sat out of the Indian team for 14 games, and over a span of six months, so I know what happens when a player is out of practice. On tours, only the playing eleven gets proper practice, so the frustration grows. These are the things I have faced in my career, so I would not like to see a youngster face the same thing.

Bengal captain Tiwary and coach Sairaj Bahutule have hit it off well.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

I also believe in telling the truth. To win the trust of your players, a leader has to tell the truth and prepare the boys for tough situations. That is one thing I am trying to do.

Another important thing is to play the best playing eleven. In a state like West Bengal, it is not easy to pick the best side because there are so many people waiting to lambast you. One wrong decision, and all would start criticising the captain and the coach.

So in such circumstances, I try to give each and every player the required confidence.

In my early days as captain, there had been a few wrong decisions. May be, I could have handled a few situations differently. But that’s in the past. As a captain, I dream of winning the Ranji Trophy. We will definitely win it, but for that a few things need to fall in the right place, at the right time.

Can you elaborate?

Look, it is important to take things in our stride. In a long domestic season, a lot happens in a team. A few people will try to exploit or badmouth a few young players. This mainly happens during the club tournaments, and most of the misunderstandings arise from here. As a senior player, I think such negativities should be done away with to give Bengal a Ranji Trophy title. It is important to be mentally strong, and one has to play fearless cricket.

Are you saying that Bengal has failed to display a fearless brand of cricket?

Last season, we succumbed under pressure in the big matches. I don’t know what went wrong. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy final, we lost a chaseable match. We had everything on our side, but ended up losing the game. May be, our approach was wrong. Another important factor is that most of our players had not played such a big final before, so they failed to handle the situation.

As a captain, that was a learning experience for me as well. Next time, if such a situation arises, I will ensure that we don’t go on the defensive. If you are chasing a big total, it is important to go on an attacking mode right from the start.

Do you think a similar thing happened to Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL final?

Exactly, the same thing happened with RPS in the IPL final. Mahi (M. S. Dhoni) bhai and Steven Smith thought that they would keep it to the singles. While chasing a low total, such an approach normally works. But there are days when it doesn’t go your way. Now, as we look back, I think may be, we could have accelerated a bit more. It hurts to miss out on an IPL title! But now, the focus is on Bengal cricket.

Your tenure as a captain has been quite a controversial one. How have you tackled the bumpy ride?

I have always enjoyed captaining Bengal. I have also delivered the goods since the U-19 days. It has been a learning experience. And, with seniors like Laxmi Ratan Shukla bhai around, I have learnt quite a few things. I have enjoyed leading my state.

There is a belief in the circuit that despite being a good performer in the limited overs, Bengal has failed to show steel in the longer formats of the game. What do you think is the reason?

We have done well in the last two seasons. We played the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals the year before. Yes, I agree, that there have been a few disappointing years, but that is part of the game.

When Deep (Dasgupta) was around, we played back to back finals. I can only say about the last two years, where we have been mostly consistent. The run flow has increased, more players have scored centuries. The youngsters have stepped up. That is happening because Sairaj Bahutule has done a great job as the coach. Also, with Dada (Sourav Ganguly) supporting the team throughout, things have only improved. Vision 20-20 has also had an impact. Give us a bit more time, we will do even better.

What are the areas of concern?

Bowling… You can’t go attacking all the time. As a batting unit too, we have faltered at times. Skill-wise, the youngsters are given more confidence and that is definitely reflecting in their form. Earlier, I have seen instances when coaches would just casually give a pat on the back and say, “I have bigger plans for you.” The same man would start abusing after a few hours. So, the youngsters had no confidence. I personally feel, no player can perform in such a situation. Now, both Sairaj (Bahutule) and I are trying to change that attitude. Even during bad days, you have to stand by the players.

There have been apprehensions about Bahutule’s work ethics…

Look, Sairaj’s natural instinct is admirable, and the players look up to him as an inspiration. He sits with each and every individual and guides them at each and every step. Earlier, the players were in fear. There were times when I have also felt scared, and that is definitely not a healthy thing.

Do you think the team can make it count in the Ranji Trophy next season?

It’s a matter of time before we do well in Ranji Trophy again. This season, we missed two of our key players — Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammad Shami — during the Ranji Trophy, so that was a big blow. We have covered all the areas, so there is no reason why we can’t do well in the Ranji Trophy next season.

While Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary sounds confident, what about Tiwary, the Team India contender? Do you think that you can still don the India colours?

I would not say that my chances of a comeback are bleak. I can make a comeback. There are players who are doing well at this point of time. But there is no guarantee that they would continue. I am still much ahead of quite a few players. I have also developed my off-spin. That was not used earlier. So, I can contribute in all the three departments. So, I am optimistic of playing for India again. Whoever thinks that my days are over, are thinking wrong. If Adam Voges, Brad Hogg and Michael Hussey can come back strong, why can’t I? I am constantly improving my game. I am still in the reckoning. You will see a different Manoj next year.

Injury still remains a major concern…

Injuries have plagued my career. Earlier, I would wonder why there were so many injury issues. But with time, I have learnt that it is a part of the game. No cricketer can be injury-free, and there is no remedy to protect yourself from getting injured. So, it’s better you deal with things as they come.

Tiwary celebrates his one-day hundred against the West Indies in Chennai on December 11, 2011. He last played for India in July 2015, but is hopeful of a comeback.   -  K. PICHUMANI

While people talk about your attitude problems, the other side of Manoj Tiwary is unexplored. It is learnt that you have started a charity organisation. Is it true?

(Laughs) I am planning to start a charity organisation, so that I can at least help a few needy people. I try and help people in need. But then, I am not someone who would publicise it too much. Now, I have decent enough money to run the family, so why not share the happiness with the deprived people as well? It’s all in the plan.

Do you feel that you are at times misunderstood?

Most of the times, I’m misunderstood. I am mostly an introvert, and I love being that way. I am tired of having negative people around. There are people who only interact with you when it’s convenient for them. There are so many things happening, even then these people keep quiet, even on social media. I think people who matter should speak more on the social media. I want more and more people to speak on national issues.

Is this the reason why you lambasted Rashid Latif for insulting Virender Sehwag?

Well, I posted it because Latif was using foul language. That was the reason. I personally feel bad if anyone says anything about Sehwag. I owe him a lot in my career. I think Viru paaji is more like Salman Khan. He doesn’t think too much. He says what he feels. But such lewd statements are not expected.

You say you are a changed man these days. What brought about the change?

(Laughs) I will credit it to my wife Sushmita. She has brought a lot of mental peace and she knows me inside out. I will be honest; she has helped me a lot in shaping my career. Because she is around, I have been able to handle a lot of things peacefully. We all know what our responsibilities are, but even then, there are times when we can’t fulfil those.

But my wife ensures that she is always there with me. I have developed a family life, which was rare earlier. Now, I go on holidays with her, take time out of the game — this is something I could never have done a few years ago. These small breaks have helped me in my game. Earlier, I would vent all my anger on cricket, but now, I have learnt how to douse the fire! (Laughs)