Manoj Tiwary watched from the dugout as the Rising Pune Supergiant middle order collapsed, losing five wickets for three runs, against disciplined wicket-to-wicket length bowling from Royal Challengers Bangalore. Runs weren't flowing freely on a sluggish surface and it seemed Rising Pune would barely touch 140, which, notwithstanding the nature of the surface, is a score well below par at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Even as the wickets fell, however, Tiwary had made a note of what he could expect when he walked out to bat. Shane Watson had executed a barrage of wide yorkers well against MS Dhoni. Tiwary, walking in to bat in the 17th over, however, did not have the time to line up bowlers like Dhoni did. He simply had to go from the first ball. It helped that he was in form and had scores of 40 not out and 31 in his two knocks so far.
Royal Challengers had done well to control the first 18 overs, limiting Rising Pune to 132 for 7. Watson was called in to bowl the penultimate over and he dared Tiwary to swipe across the line in search of boundaries by packing the off side. Tiwary, however, had his plans set. Watson employed the bluff, repeatedly bowling full and wide, and watched his plans backfire spectacularly in a 19-run over.
Watson began with a full delivery outside off, which Tiwary reached out and carved between cover and point. Then came a short ball that was signaled wide: the short delivery was now unlikely to be brought on again with the risk of it being called a no-ball. It became a question of Tiwary's anticipation against Watson's smarts.
The third ball was right in the slot for Tiwary to swing, and he smacked it over cover for four. The next two deliveries were also fuller and were tonked over extra cover and the bowler's head respectively, the last one going for a six. Tiwary scored 27 off 11 balls and Royal Challengers found that their potential chase of 140 had grown to a target of 162. The hosts eventually fell 27 runs short.
"I was just trying to read the mind of the bowler," Tiwary said. "I was observing what he [Shane Watson] was trying to do to MS Dhoni. He set a field and bowled differently. He got a wicket in the form of MS. For the kind of field set, I knew he'll bowl similarly to me. Once the bouncer went for a wide, I knew he wouldn't bowl another one. He bowled in my areas, he missed his execution and I was up for it. Pretty happy to contributed in the last phase."
One of the most important aspects of Tiwary's batting this season has been his fluency at the crease, which he admits hasn't always been the case in T20 cricket. Before the start of the IPL, his strike rate across 132 T20 matches stood at 114.75. This season, he has blasted 98 runs at a strike rate of 160.65. Rising Pune may have erred by sending Tiwary at No. 7 on Sunday, below Dan Christian, but he made sure his contribution counted.
His enterprising knock helped the team cover up for a middle-overs' passage when Steven Smith and Dhoni shared a partnership of 58 of 46 deliveries. "It was difficult for the batsmen but I felt that over of Watson obviously, he didn't apply his brain to be honest, changed it," Tiwary said. "The wicket was difficult to bat on. If there is moisture underneath, it makes shot-making difficult."
Tiwary's start to IPL 2017 has been particularly satisfying. Last year, he went unsold at the auction and, hurt by that, he was forced to change his approach in T20s, where he hadn't quite been sure of his role. Returning to the IPL fold, he said, brought with it a lot of pressure and the weight of expectation.
"Strike rates have been at the back of my mind. Even in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, I wanted to focus on that since it's the demand of the format," Tiwary said. "I normally try and play the situation. The nature of my batting is such. My role is 50-50, at times I find it difficult to analyse how to go about my game. Couple of seasons ago at Delhi, they used me as a floater. If a wicket falls, I was asked to build. This year, I made up my mind, no matter what the situation is, I'll look to play aggressively. That is the plan I had and it's helping me."