A few days after the historic pink-ball Test in Kolkata, Manoj Tiwary met with this reporter in the garden of his apartment complex, his one-and-a-half year old son in tow. Tiwary was characteristically outspoken and candid, occasionally having to stop to run after his sprightly boy, and broached many topics - from the hurt at not being picked in the IPL last year, to a still-burning ambition for cricket, and the time when he wasn't picked for 14 matches after an ODI century.
At 34, what are the things you prioritise?
Age is obviously just a number. If we listen to the interviews or read interviews of great athletes, they always say that this is just a number and we also feel the same way because it's all about fitness, your awareness, your understanding of the game.
Priorities, as far as professional life is concerned - I want my performances to be better than they were previous season. And also keep performing to the best of my ability and make sure that my consistency rate is there all the time. And I believe deep down that one season of Ranji Trophy can again bring that luck back to me, as far as being picked for India is concerned.
And also to get an opportunity in the IPL as well. Last year I could not make a team, so obviously IPL is a very big platform. I'm hoping that somebody gives me an opportunity in their side.
After 16 years of being at this level, how do you now prepare for a season as opposed to 10 years ago?
Very similar kind of preparation to be honest. It's just that I need to improve on my skillsets because the more compact you become in Ranji Trophy, the more tight you become, there are more chances of you getting consistent scores. The older you grow the more effort you have to put because earlier, your body was pretty natural, but the load of so many years now takes a toll on the body. I bowl as well, and I give more than 100 percent - obviously everyone gives - but I'm also someone who dives a lot on the field. So that's why I've always kept my physical fitness the first priority and then obviously work on my skillsets and improve on the other part.
You must have seen as well, legspin was not working for me in the middle because I had a niggle in my spinning finger. Then I came with the slinging offspin, which was very useful for me in T20s which happened in Ranchi [Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, 2017-18]. I was the leading wicket taker for Bengal. 14 [13 in eight matches] odd wickets at a very good strike rate.
Is that something you've had to keep doing in the last few years, innovate?
Yes. That is because I want to make sure I'm ready with all three departments. Since my spinning finger was injured, I could not bowl legspin. That's why I started bowling slinging offspin because I wanted to contribute to the team and also show the concerned people in franchises that I can contribute in bowling as well. It's not about the four-over slot, it's about the one over which makes an impact in an IPL game, where I can contribute a tight over. And they look at me as an option. That's why I started that, to get more regularly picked in the IPL and give more options to the captains and teams who are there at the auction table.
So preparing for the IPL is now officially part of your routine?
No. It depends on the format which I'm playing to be honest. Obviously IPL is a very big platform, but I've always prepared according to the format which I'm going to play. Because I play the situation. Somewhere down the line, I feel that that is one thing that has maybe became a downfall of my career. Maybe. That question pops up in my mind most of the time because I've always given emphasis on playing the situation rather than playing for something which is coming in the future, like the IPL.
"I could not get the reason why I was not getting picked. It was not communicated. So if that communication is not there, you feel what's wrong with my game. At that point I had no one who guided me as such to be more calm and not to overthink." MANOJ TIWARY
I see a lot of players, no matter what the situation demands, they try and go play very attacking shots. When a player plays attacking shots, or takes too many undue risks, there is always an opportunity for the opposition to get his wicket. I don't try and do that. But still when I sit back and I don't get picked for the IPL, when I see those players getting an opportunity, then I feel whether my preparation was correct in playing the situation, or should I have played more attackingly to make sure my strike rate goes higher up, irrespective of how much I've contributed to the team. So that is a question which pops in my mind when I miss out on an IPL contract.
You missed out last year (in the IPL auction) and were outspoken about how upset you were. Why did you choose to come out and talk about it?
It was quite simple. In [IPL] 2017 I had a fabulous season (with Rising Pune Supergiant). I got four FBB Stylish Player awards and our team reached the final as well. Unfortunately, we lost against Mumbai [Indians] in the final, where we could have won. Those awards come because you did really well, you made an impact on the game. After that the Pune team left the IPL [when their 2-year contract ended] and then I went to the auction again and Kings XI [Punjab] picked me.
Unfortunately, when I sit back and think about why I didn't get a fair run it was because I realised that Kings XI at that point of time picked so many openers in their side, where they had to make all the openers bat in the middle order to make the combination correct. KL [Rahul] was there, Mayank [Agarwal] was opening, Karun [Nair] was also opening, [Aaron] Finch was an opener, and Gayle obviously. So that, somewhere I feel, has hampered my position in the team.
But, nevertheless, I got three opportunities to bat. First two I couldn't make an impact. But I felt that third innings against Chennai [Super Kings] was an important innings. It was the second-highest score [35 off 30] for the Kings XI side after Karun Nair's half-century. That was something which I thought was a good innings under pressure. And after that, I did not get an opportunity because the team did not qualify and last year nobody picked me.
My name came first in the auction, and I was a little surprised to see no one has picked me. My base price was INR 50 lakhs [approx. US$ 7050], so I did not come as expensive if someone had taken me. That's why I was a little disappointed, because people pretty quickly forget your contributions. And I've always been a very upfront guy, I've always believed in saying the truth. And that has been a downfall, when I sit back and think about the statements I've made earlier during my career.
That's how the emotions came out. I try to be calm most of the time - and I've been now, over a period of time. Earlier I was very aggressive by nature, on the field as well, when I started playing. Sometimes I obviously feel bad. I'm not against any of the young players getting picked for the IPL, it's just that when I see in difficult situations all the youngsters who have been given a longer rope, in those crucial situations, they're not able to hit those boundaries. Not able to keep their calm in such a way that they're giving themselves a better chance to succeed. Whereas when I'm sitting at home watching those games, I feel that I could have scored those runs, I could have made that impact. So these are the things that bother me at times, but when time passes, it's all well and good.
Lot of people believe you're unfortunate not to have played more for India. You got injured at crucial points and so forth. Ever felt, "why does this only happen to me?"
There are a couple of instances where things have not gone the way I would've loved them to. Like getting injured on my first tour in Bangladesh, in 2006-07. Before a game I got injured, my shoulder got dislocated. Then I had to wait one year to make a debut in Australia (2008 CB Series). I was waiting for the other opportunity in that tournament, where Rohit [Sharma] became Rohit if you remember. Then I had to wait three years to make a comeback. I was made to open in the West Indies when I had a fabulous IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders (in 2011). Went to West Indies, got opportunities, but at the opening slot, which is not my position. I've always batted at No. 4. In the fifth game of the series, I got opportunity at No. 4. I scored 24  and got out. Got set and got out.
Again, I was dropped for a lot of matches. Again I got picked in the West Indies home series where [Virender] Sehwag opted out. I made sure I batted No. 4. In the last game of the series, I got a hundred, and after that I was not part of the playing XI for the next 14 games for India. And that 14 games happened over a period of six months.
I could not get the reason why I was not getting picked. It was not communicated. So if that communication is not there, you feel 'What's wrong with my game?' At that point, I had no one who guided me as such to be more calm and not to overthink about these things, so that whenever you get an opportunity you will obviously have to make an impact on those games.
But having said that, I look at life in a very positive way. From where I started and where I am right now, it's all because of god's grace. I'd never thought that I will reach this place where I'll be financially secure, people will know my name and give me love and appreciation. I see a lot of people in our community who are differently-abled. I've got my body intact. I compare with them whenever I come across difficult situations and I obviously think I've been blessed to have this kind of life. So those phases just pass by.
In the coming season, you'll have a slightly different role, with a new captain coming in at Bengal?
I've always wanted to be a team man, my only aim is to make sure the team wins the trophy. During my captaincy term, I have won a few trophies. Now I want to help [Abhimanyu] Easwaran. He's our captain now. I want to assist him whenever it's required, but I also want to give him that space so that he becomes a good captain by himself. Because captaincy I believe is all about your gut feeling. And what you are thinking in that point of time. That is what I've done in Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali. So my role as a senior is to just help the youngsters. I want to go up to them and tell them what needs to be done and how you can do it, rather than I keep sitting and watching them, keep replaying their mistakes. What I had gone through - I don't want them to [go through and] lose out on time. You learn because of your experiences and when I see these players are getting misdirected or not working in a correct way, I want to make sure that these guys don't lose out on time.
"I started bowling slinging offspin because I wanted to contribute to the team and also show the concerned people in franchises that I can contribute in bowling as well." MANOJ TIWARY
Now that half the home season is done, what would your ideal season look like from here?
I want to score more than 1000 runs this season. That's my aim. I'm working towards it. Whatever is required to be done, whether it's physical or planning my innings in a better way. I've chalked out a few areas where I need to work as far as my technique is concerned. Getting my technique a bit tighter for the Ranji games. Which is always the challenging part when you play shorter formats before the Ranji season, you want to play Ranji in the same flow. That's not going to give you dividends. Because in days matches, the ball keeps swinging most of the time. You have to have a very good technique and temperament to score big runs and hundreds. And I've done it in the past. It's just that this year will be more important because I want to give myself the best chance of scoring 1000 runs.
Is that the goal now, that you have to go out on a high?
I'm not going anywhere. I'm 34 and I plan to play another ten years. I know it's not going to be easy. If Wasim [Jaffer] bhai can play for so many years, if Zaheer Khan can roll his arm at 42 and still get wickets at T10, why can't I? Michael Jordan, LeBron James, so many other athletes. Nobody will question LeBron James - he's 34 I guess. He's going to continue for another 3-4 years. So that's how I want to break it down. Three years [at a time], or two. I'm not going to go (out) so easily.