After Bengal lurched from one defeat to another in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy this season, the chorus for the axing of captain Manoj Tiwary got louder. Then there were reports that he was put on a notice period of two matches in the subsequent Ranji Trophy. Tiwary responded with a fifty in Bengal's Ranji opener against Himachal Pradesh in Nadaun, and followed it with an unbeaten 201 against Madhya Pradesh at his home ground, Eden Gardens.
Tiwary celebrated the landmark rather animatedly and rated the double-century as one of his best knocks, given both his captaincy and place in his state team were at stake.
"I was playing Deodhar Trophy in Delhi when I came to know about the [possible] drop from a few individuals and the media as well," Tiwary told ESPNcricinfo. "Since my name was involved, I feel I should've also been consulted before such statements were made.
"I normally keep all the emotions at heart when I score a hundred, but this time the challenges were different and the pressure was high. I've scored four double-hundreds previously but I scored this after a long gap. It came against a quality attack and it is definitely among my top-three knocks. SS [a bat manufacturer] also gave me a bat with my son's name engraved on it and the next day was my birthday, so it was very special."
Tiwary is used to being in the eye of storms. After amassing 796 runs at an average 99.50 in the 2006-07 Ranji Trophy, he was set to make his debut for India in the first ODI against Bangladesh in Mirpur in May 2007. However, he landed awkwardly on his shoulder during training and was eventually sidelined from the series.
He finally made his debut against Australia in Brisbane in February 2008, but he was cleaned up by a ripping yorker from Brett Lee for 2 off 15 balls. After that, he did not play an international for more than three years.
More disappointment would await Tiwary, as after hitting his maiden international ton, against West Indies in Chennai, he was once again benched.
Tiwary admitted that the early setbacks and recurrent injuries had "disturbed him", but he was now mature enough to make peace with it and count his blessings instead. Having made his first-class debut in 2004, Tiwary is into his 14th year in domestic cricket, and he had hit the winning runs when Kolkata Knight Riders sealed their maiden IPL title in 2012.
"Initially I used to be disturbed by the fact: 'Why me? Why did I get injured during a crucial time in my career?' But over a period of time I've realised that whatever happens, happens for the best and maybe I wasn't destined to play then," Tiwary said.
"When I made my India debut in Brisbane, I had landed a day before. You're inexperienced and you see your heroes in your team and opposition. No complaints, but my dismissal just happened. I was looking forward to another opportunity to make up for the failure, but I did not get many chances. It has been a roller-coaster ride, but I'm more mature now.
"Some people say I'm unlucky but I can say if I wasn't lucky, I wouldn't have been playing for 14-15 years, being Bengal captain, scoring a hundred for India against West Indies, getting an IPL contract and having a secure livelihood."
Tiwary, 33, said he was still hopeful of returning to the national side, drawing inspiration from players across the world who had been late bloomers.
"Making a comeback to the Indian team also keeps me going because I feel I can still contribute in the middle order, provided an opportunity," he said. "Making a national return is something I am chasing right now, getting there would be nice.
"I've seen so many players making a comeback at 33-34. Adam Voges, Imran Tahir, Mike Hussey all started late and did well. The notion of not picking players above 30 in India must go. Age is just a number; if you're fit you can play. In last season's post-match interview in the IPL, [MS] Dhoni also spoke about the average age of the CSK team. It's about fitness, ball-sense, and fielding well."
Tiwary's immediate goal is to build on the gains from the the last Ranji Trophy season, when Bengal progressed to the semi-finals, and mentor a bunch of youngsters, who he believes are central to the side's rise.
Ishan Porel, the 20-year-old quick, bagged 5 for 48 while 25-year-old opener Abhishek Raman made twin fifties to help Bengal conjure a one-wicket win against Tamil Nadu on a two-paced pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in the fourth round. Pradipta Pramanik, the 20-year-old left-arm spinner, also played his part in the victory, following his four wickets with a stubborn 25 not out which saw Bengal home.
"I'm more like an elder brother to the team than a captain," Tiwary said. "I've always given my advice and my points of view to the youngsters whenever I feel like giving, to each of them. And I've always believed this team has the potential to win the Ranji Trophy - I'm not saying it for the sake of saying it. People just need to give us a bit more time. They can't expect overnight results."
He also retains faith in Bengal's Vision 2020, a programme launched by CAB in 2014 to groom youngsters and prepare them for international cricket, with VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan as mentors.
"The batting group did well last year, and Sudip [Chatterjee] is in form," Tiwary said. "There is talent in the bowling attack as well. I truly believe it's going to be a good season for us if everybody keeps contributing at the right moments. Some of the boys are nervous at times, though. There are a few players who haven't played in games that are televised live and haven't been in pressure situations more often. The more they play under pressure they will come out stronger. Coach Sairaj [Bahutule], mentor Arun Lalji, Laxman, Muralitharan are all guiding the youngsters in the road to Bengal's Vision 2020."