“I am still minister of state for sports,” Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary declared with a smile, as he rushed to attend his senior in the ministry Aroop Biswas during a visit to the Eden Gardens on the eve of the Ranji Trophy final against Saurashtra in Kolkata on Wednesday. It has been a roller-coaster ride for the 37-year-old Tiwary who was clueless about his career when his knees “gave up” and the whole world came under the grip of COVID-19 pandemic just after Bengal lost in the Ranji final against Saurashtra in 2020.
With the pandemic disrupting the sporting calendar, Tiwary, battling issues in both knees, found his career at the crossroads when he got an offer from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to join Trinamool Congress ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls.
He readily took up the offer, won Shibpur constituency in Howrah district and succeeded his senior Bengal teammate Laxmi Ratan Shukla as the Minister of State for Sports.
Two years down the line, ‘Tiwary 2.0’ is back as captain, reuniting with Shukla, who is now Bengal head coach. The duo conjured up a winning mantra to take Bengal to the brink of a third title, and their first since 1989-90.
“I joined politics during a time when nobody was sure of when the Ranji Trophy was going to happen again. Both my knees had given up because of cartilage issues, so India comeback was not realistic,” Tiwary recalled the COVID-19 days in an interaction with PTI.
It was in the build-up to the 2019-20 season, India prospect Abhimanyu Easwaran took over the charge of captaincy from Tiwary.
“I always supported him as a player. But somewhere down the line, I still had the thirst to win the title for Bengal,” said Tiwary, who has been part of Bengal’s three losses in Ranji finals in 2006, 2007 and 2020.
As Abhimanyu was busy with national commitments, Tiwary was reappointed the skipper and with Shukla, they began their second innings.
“I requested our honourable Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to let me play cricket and she obliged and my senior sports minister Aroop Biswas also encouraged me not to give up cricket and go out there and play along with your constituency work.” Thus began a tough terrain for Tiwary whose day starts at the crack of the dawn with signing the files and hearing grievances of the people of his constituency before padding up for Bengal.
“Obviously, it is not easy to manage both the things. It’s just about the mindset, will power and how you want to manage your daily routine. It’s all about time management, and you get very less time to sleep.
“I have to do a lot of work as well after going back home, have to recover my body and then look at the files.” But with Bengal doing well under Tiwary, even the people of his constituency have realised the importance of leaving him stress-free.
“Even my constituency people understand how important winning a Ranji Trophy for the state is. It’s not just for me but for the entire Bengal because we have not won the Ranji Trophy for more than 32 years.” Tiwary also thanked his wife for being supportive.
“She has been very supportive, without her support and love it was not possible for me. She’s been very helpful.”
Similar ‘genes’ as coach Shukla
So, what has been the winning mantra for the Bengal coach-captain duo this time? “Chemistry was always there between us. When I made my debut, he was a senior in the team, he always guided me. The key was to create a good atmosphere and team bonding.
“He was an intense cricketer who would fight really hard and give it all. My genes are also similar to what he has. We both like to fight it out on the ground and are very expressive as well.
“As a coach, he has given me full support and liberty. Otherwise it’s not possible to do this. I’ve seen many coaches who interfere from outside, which does not help. In his case, he’s very supportive,” Tiwary said.
The duo were part of the failures in 2006 and 2007 as teammates when Bengal lost to Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai respectively.
“There is always a chance to come back in life. Hum jitte hain ya sikhte hai (we either win or learn). It’s the season’s last match, and we want to end on high,” coach Shukla told PTI.
Hailing Tiwary’s leadership qualities, Shukla said: “He’s the best guy to lead Bengal side, has so many runs at domestic level.
“He is the driving force behind Bengal. He has played IPL, India, he’s a very good leader. it’s about having full faith in team players.” Asked how Tiwary manages to juggle between politics and sports, Shukla said: “He is very responsible and hardworking. it’s not difficult for him.”
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