'My objective is winning back the India cap'
Having sort of missed the bus twice, Manoj Tiwary is hoping to be third time lucky.
Bengal's batting sensation twice got opportunities to play for India, but on both occasions Lady Luck was not on his side.
In 2007, he got injured during fielding practice and had to miss the Bangladesh tour; a year later, he was rushed to Australia for the tri-series and handed his ODI debut after just a few hours of sleep following the long flight Down Under. But hardly did he regain his breath than he came up against the hot pace of Brett Lee, who bowled him cheaply.
But the 25-year-old continued to work hard and post big scores in domestic cricket in all formats of the game. Last year he amassed 525 runs in seven matches in the Ranji Trophy, and then played a stellar role in Bengal's victory in the Syed Mustaq Ali Trophy (India's national T20 tournament), top-scoring in the tournament with 251 runs from eight games.
Tiwary has been a revelation in the Indian Premier League (IPL) too, aggregating with 355 runs in 14 matches, at an average of 59, help Kolkata Knight Riders in the process to progress to the knockout rounds of the T20 league for the first time in four seasons.
The ace batsman believes it is important to keep scoring big runs to regain the India captain. Now, looking at his current form, one is sure his time will come pretty soon.
In a freewheeling interview, Manoj Tiwary discusses with Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian his recent good run in the IPL and how he plans to comeback to the Indian team.
How big a relief was it for the Kolkata Knight Riders to finally break the first round jinx and progress to the knock-out stages of this fourth edition of the IPL?
It is a big relief for everyone, including the team and owners, because KKR's results in the last three editions were not upto the mark and not upto the expectations of the team owners, fans and players as well. So it is a very big relief for us.
We have come so far because of great team work, including the management as well. The atmosphere in the KKR dressing room in this edition of the IPL has been very good. The players who have come in from the auction have delivered and that is why we are playing really good cricket. Each and everyone is coming and delivering in different situations, whenever required. Obviously, Gautam Gambhir is doing a great job as a captain and the support staff has helped each and every cricketer to do well. So a great team effort is going on.
Image: Manoj Tiwary
'I have got a real feel of the IPL only this year'
So, in a way, spending so much money and bringing in a lot of big international stars, like Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis, has helped turn things around for KKR?
Yes, that is right. If you go back and see their statistics in the last three editions of the IPL they have done really well. That is why, I think, Kolkata Knight Riders decided to bring these new players and build a new side. I think each and every individual has benefitted from their presence.
These top players have also made a vital contribution as far as performances are concerned. That is why we have registered more victories this season. The players are delivering in pressure situations and taking the team through.
Personally, this has been a big tournament for you so far, having aggregated 355 runs in 14 matches, and played your part of finishing matches to good effect whenever required. You were even discussed in the selection meeting for the Indian ODI team to the West Indies. How satisfied are you with your showing so far?
To be honest, I am very happy with the kind of contribution I have made for KKR this season. I have got a real feel of the IPL only this year; last year it was only to a certain extent.
If you saw me in the first season of the IPL, when I was playing for Delhi Daredevils, I was batting in the middle order. It was unfortunate that I could not get the opportunity higher up; but that's because we had such good batsmen at the top in Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan, who were doing really well at that time.
For me, as a reckoning player, I was not getting the opportunities at the top of the order because those guys were doing really well. So my opportunities of scoring big runs were very limited in that tournament.
In the second edition of the IPL, I came into the tournament in good form after scoring lot of runs in domestic cricket. But I got injured in South Africa and had to fly back to India after playing just one match.
In the last tournament, I got the opportunity to come and play for Kolkata Knight Riders and got an opportunity to bat at a good position in the order. But when I came here I saw that I had to open the innings. That was also a new challenge for me, because I had never opened in my career before. I said to myself that I had sacrificed so much money to come to Kolkata so I would also take up this challenge and open the batting.
I didn't start off well and got out early in the first match, but in the second I scored a half-century which made an impact. Then I followed it up with a few more important contributions and even got two man-of-the-match awards. This year I again came back into the middle order. It was a bit difficult, because you don't really get too many balls to score from. As everyone knows, you will only get noticed if you score big runs. So, that way, it is a very tough job.
I am very thankful to the franchise owners and the team management for showing faith in me and picking me from the auction.
Last year I was not sure of my role to be honest but this year my role has been made clear. Thus, I was very clear in my mind and my preparations went off very well, according to what they wanted. I am very happy to repay their faith and happy to contribute.
If you are in a good frame of mind, and you know what the team expects from you, then good things are bound to happen. So far it is going on well.
So you got a lot of time in the pre-season to prepare for this difficult role of a finisher. What kind of preparation did you make for this position in the batting order?
See, I have played five years of first class cricket and have learnt a lot. Generally, I don't throw away my wicket, but if you saw in the first match against Chennai Super Kings, I had made a quickfire 30-odd and we needed just nine from eight balls. At that stage, I made the mistake of stepping out to Suraj Randiv and threw my wicket away. Then I realized that if I stayed till the end I would have won the match on my own.
I never make such mistakes even if you see my batting in first class cricket or any form of cricket.
After that I made a decision that if I am out in the middle and batting well, then I have to take my team through. So, if you see after that match, I stayed till the end and finished the match with my partner.
The coach, Dav Whatmore, also told me after the match that if I had stayed there I could have finished it myself. So all that helped me change my approach and get better at this role.
Have you made any changes to your batting style or technique, because you have looked comfortable an playing attacking game on all kinds of wickets, and against all kinds of bowling in different conditions? It is the mental maturity that has helped you make such a huge improvement in your game?
Yes, you are right. The mental aspect is very important, because if you are clear in your mind you are bound to do well. I am very clear with what I am doing to do and what role I will play in the team's success. My mind is very clear when I go out in the middle to bat and my preparations have also been great; so all that has helped.
Image: Manoj Tiwary (right) with Gautam Gambhir
'Domestic cricket is very important'
You have also been unlucky twice, as far as playing for India is concerned. In 2007, you injured yourself during fielding practice and could not make it on the Bangladesh tour; then in 2008, in the tri-series in Australia, your sudden debut for Team India was unfortunate, because you hardly had time to settle yourself in after a long flight and then came up against a rampaging Brett Lee. Do you believe that the India cap is not far and you will be lucky the third time?
My main objective is to win back the India cap. I know very well that to achieve that I have to follow a simple process -- that is to score a lot of runs whenever given an opportunity and also contribute to the team's success, which is more important.
It is not always that I will score big, but for me it will be important that no matter how much I score it should help the team to succeed. That is very important. In the process if I score big runs then I will be very happy.
I know the process I have to go through to get back the India cap and also know that there is a lot of competition. But, at the same time, I know I am in good touch and if I can continue contributing like this then, maybe, in future, I can achieve my dream.
The IPL has obviously proved a breakthrough tournament for a lot of Indian youngsters. But the selectors recently sent out a loud and clear message that domestic cricket will get more importance over IPL when it comes to selection for Team India. Your take on that?
Domestic cricket is very important and I personally give it a lot of importance. I feel that if you want to get the India cap you should perform in each and every format of domestic cricket. Then, the IPL is there but IPL is a completely different format altogether.
Has domestic cricket helped you improve as a cricketer overall?
It has been very good experience so far. Generally, I have been an aggressive batsman by nature since I started out in domestic cricket. But things have happened in between that has forced me to change my approach at times. Like during the ICL, a lot of Bengal players went to play there and I was the main batsman during that time for Bengal. So I had that responsibility to stay till the end and play bigger innings which resulted in me changing my nature of play and my approach.
I became defensive in my approach and at the same time I wanted to score big runs and in that confusion I lost a few of my shots which I used to play initially. But now I have decided that no matter what happens you have to back your strengths, which is to dominate the bowlers.
So it has been a learning curve for me as far as my cricketing career is concerned and I keep learning everyday in domestic cricket. I look to pick the good points and keep getting better and better.
Image: Manoj Tiwary
'Gambhir brings a fresh approach to captaincy'
Do you go and talk to someone like Jacques Kallis, who is one of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket? What are the things you have learnt from being with him and watching him play?
I have spoken to him a lot and he is a very helpful guy. Whenever you want some suggestion or advice, he is always ready to help you. I have asked him to look how I am going about my batting and give his feedback, whether there is anything lacking with my batting. So it has been quite good interacting with him.
Also, I like to observe big players ... what they do prior to a match and how they prepare; during the match and after the match. I like to read their frame of mind and try to pick up things.
Like, with Kallis, he is a very calm guy and goes about his business quietly, whether it is batting or bowling. I am very happy to share the dressing room with such great players and it has been a great learning curve for a young player like me.
Tell us about Gambhir's captaincy. He seems to be very aggressive and has done really well as a leader for Kolkata Knight Riders. What do you think?
As you rightly said, he is very aggressive; at the same time he brings a fresh approach to captaincy. He does not hesitate to take decisions and trusts his instincts a lot in situations.
Like, in some situations, as you saw in the IPL, he has kept a silly point, which is a fresh idea in Twenty20 cricket. He has been playing for India for so many years and knows what is required to be successful at the top level, both as player and captain.
As everyone has seen in this year's IPL, he is doing a really good job. Captaincy is about getting the best out of every individual and taking the right decisions at the right time.
Having finally made it to the play-offs, do you believe Kolkata can go all the way and win the IPL?
Obviously, we believe we can win the IPL. The way we played against Mumbai Indians in our last league match, it shows that we are capable of beating the best. We were unlucky in the last over, with a few edges going for boundaries, else we would have beaten them comprehensively.
We dominated Mumbai in all the departments for the rest of the match, so Mumbai will definitely feel the pressure in the Eliminator match against us. If we continue playing like this, we can beat any team that comes against us.
Image: Manoj Tiwary (left) with Gautam Gambhir