Rohit and Tiwary's shared goal
Results from Group A will be watched closely in the latest round of the Ranji Trophy, given the difference between seven of the nine teams that are part of it is a maximum of two points. That's the margin that separates Mumbai and Bengal ahead of their clash at the Brabourne Stadium on Saturday, and an outright result may trigger a churning in the points table. Not much separates the two protagonists of each side as well, and the sub-plot that is their individual performances will be monitored just as closely as the bigger picture. Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary share much in common as they take on each other, not just as leaders of their respective Ranji teams.
Both have played for India but are at the fringes of the country's Test side; Rohit has been part of the Test squad on two occasions but hasn't earned a cap, Tiwary never; both have hit a century each in the tournament so far. In the middle of a busy home season that includes a major series against Australia next year, and with India's current middle order a cause for concern, the Ranji Trophy's value in pushing their claims for a Test place cannot be overstated.
Rohit and Tiwary admit the desire for a Test place remains at the back of their minds, but as senior members of their respective teams they also admit there is a larger responsibility, something that's prompted them to revisit their individual approach to batting. "When I started I was an aggressive batsman by nature but then I realised I had to curb my instincts because in a days' match, you have to have patience to score big runs," Tiwary said at the Brabourne Stadium on Friday. "It can't just come if you play quickly or take too many risks initially. Being the senior member of the side and a responsible batsman, I try to occupy the crease because all the other batsmen gain a lot of confidence when I am around. It becomes an added responsibility.
Rohit said he was enjoying the responsibility of leading the side in Ajit Agarkar's absence. "It will definitely change my batting responsibilities and approach to the game. I am trying to lead from the front," he said. "I am getting to know the players better and trying to find out how I can extract more out of them. I am trying to make everyone comfortable.
"Added responsibility doesn't mean I will stop playing my shots. If the ball is there to be hit I will go for it. It doesn't change my game at all. But I am more careful now."
Mumbai are yet to win a game outright this season and Rohit wants more consistency from his team. "We failed to get an outright victory in the last three games but I feel our bowlers did a good job," he said. "We played on flat wickets and there wasn't anything for the bowlers. Restricting Rajasthan to 470, I feel, was commendable because they were 270 for 2 on day one. We came back strongly on the second day but they tried their best. I believe we have to be more consistent and if we manage to do that the results will favour us."
Bengal have lost two of their four games, and are without fast bowler Ashok Dinda, who was named Umesh Yadav's replacement in the squad for the third Test against England in Kolkata. "He was judged the best bowler on the domestic circuit and with the way he was bowling, we will definitely miss him," Tiwary said. "But we have a bowler in Shami [Ahmed] who has been bowling really well. He got a hat-trick in the last game, got 11 wickets. Looking at the other bowlers, we have a decent attack. We will play to our strengths and try and attack them."
Tiwary returns to Brabourne Stadium a month after he scored 93 for India A against England XI in their warm-up game ahead of the Test series. "They are the No.2 side in the world, so such an innings gives you a lot of confidence for the following matches. When you face quality bowlers and score against them, that confidence has helped me score even more runs in the few Ranji matches I have played since then."
Tiwary missed Bengal's previous game due to a wrist injury, but has been cleared to play against Mumbai. Rohit hurt his forearm during training on Friday, but will play the game. For what will be the first Ranji game at the Brabourne Stadium this season, the captains were happy with the pitch, which they said had some grass on it and would assist fast bowlers.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo