A foot in the door
The Indian squads to tour Bangladesh have only two players with no international experience: Manoj Tiwary and Rajesh Pawar. That's almost all they have in common - Tiwary has a spunky image to live up to, and Pawar a chance to prove that paying the dues on the domestic circuit entitle him to a seat on the tour.
For the past fortnight, ever since the BCCI's working committee advised the selectors to pick a young team, Tiwary's has been an extremely confident, and familiar, face. He has appeared on various TV channels to say he doesn't know what pressure means, that he is scared of nothing. Behind that thin frame Tiwary has displayed the air of a boxer cutting promos for a big fight, telling his opponents to bring it on.
That time is now, and the man seems ready. "I've got a foot in the door", Tiwary told Cricinfo. "And I intend to use the opportunity."
Before the media rush, though, Tiwary was Bengal's No. 4 batsman, a huge fan of Kevin Pietersen's and one of the two star batsmen in the recently concluded Ranji Trophy season. He scored 796 runs in seven matches at 99.50, with only one score between 50 and 150 - and crossed 150 three times. The national selectors watched as Tiwary took on Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ramesh Powar in the Ranji Trophy final for his 94.
India's World Cup disaster seems to have added weight to his exceptional Ranji Trophy season and what still seemed to be another season away is here and now. This will be the first peek into the mental make-up of a 21-year old who will now have to put his money - or his bat - where his mouth is, and prove that he really doesn't hold any fear. A tour of Bangladesh seems the ideal way to start to a career - a bit more relaxed than others but with enough previous in a fledgling rivalry to provide the bite.
"I'll sit down with the coach and discuss how I should approach batting," said Tiwary. "I'm a strokemaker and it would not be right to curb my natural instincts. But sometimes I go for my shots too much and lose my wicket. I will try and watch out for that."
And yet for Tiwary the tension could be stifling. Given that it's only a three-match ODI series, the opportunities are few; and given that the Test team has been announced, there are no other immediate rewards on offer. With Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly technically rested for the one-dayers and hence expected to be back for future ODIs, he will have to make a solid statement with whatever chances he gets. He may end up getting only one game, that too outside his favoured No.4 batting slot. And all this under a level of scrutiny he would never have experienced before.
The opportunity has presented itself - it's now Tiwary's to grab or spurn.
Pawar, on the other hand, has the luxury of not having to even think about any such apprehensions. Playing Ranji cricket came hard enough for him and he knows that anything extra is a bonus. He led the Mumbai under-19 side, and was also a part of the Indian U-19 World Cup squad in South Africa in 1998. He didn't get a game there, but went on to play one U-19 Test. In 1999-00, he took 44 first-class wickets and seemed close to national selection. But the left-arm orthodox spinner couldn't find a way past Nilesh Kulkarni, Sairaj Bahutule and Powar for a permanent place in the Mumbai side and he managed just 30 wickets in the next three seasons.
He then moved to Baroda, with a little help from clubmate and friend Zaheer. Once there, he'd overcome an inauspicious start - just three wickets in four games in 2003-04 - to achieve consistency over the past three seasons, taking 214 first-class wickets at 27.89.
That was the first major hurdle crossed; the bigger one lay ahead. Just a couple of months ago Pawar would have looked at the long line of Indian spinners in front of him - Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Powar, Piyush Chawla, even Murali Kartik, a fellow left-arm spinner - and wondered when he'd get his due. Then he was included in the list of probables for the World Cup, the spectre of Kumble's total retirement from cricket loomed larger and Harbhajan Singh lost his form.
Pawar said he had expected the call-up. "I think it is the right time for me to make it to the next level,"Pawar said. "I'm bowling like I have never bowled before and it would be fair to say I'm at the top of my game." He also said that although the move to Baroda had not been the best thing, he "had the advantage of getting far more opportunities to show my talent".
Apart from his pure, text-book left-arm spin, Pawar brings to the table his handy batting down the order, and a set of quick legs in the field. Being one of three spinners in the Test squad, his getting a game in the two-Test series may be difficult. But difficult situations is fast becoming Pawar's area of expertise.