Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma seem to demand a joint narrative. Rohit was at the crease when Tiwary walked in to bat on India debut in February 2008. Rohit broke his finger last year in England and Tiwary was flown in as replacement. The Rohit v Tiwary debate has played on and on this series in the media. At almost every press conference, the team management has made it clear who it prefers. Gautam Gambhir has raved about Rohit's talent and has said that Tiwary should be prepared to grab any opportunity that comes his way. Tiwary did just that today with a busy fifty in only his seventh game in 14 months since his comeback in the West Indies. And yes, on his way to the middle, he passed Rohit, who was on his way back after a miserable run of 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4 in the series.
Just put yourself in Tiwary's shoes for a moment. After making 104* against West Indies in December 2011, he was on the bench for 14 consecutive games in three different countries. In that period, Rohit averaged 14.54 in 11 innings. Gambhir said that getting dropped would dent Rohit's confidence. Nobody talked about Tiwary's confidence. It was almost as if he didn't exist.
Tiwary-on-the-bench jokes had become common on Twitter. The man himself gave nothing away. He would carry his kitbag to the ground and dutifully go through practice with a blank expression. Probably the most emotion he showed was when he grinned after effortlessly dribbling the ball past his young peers such as Rohit and Virat Kohli during a game of football.
As far as attractiveness of play, or what is known as "looking good", goes, Tiwary pales before Rohit. Rohit makes even getting beaten look beautiful. Even when he edges a fast bowler in nets, you end up looking at the graceful arc of the bat his attempted drive makes. Tiwary does not have such luxury. Even when he is in control in the middle, he can look tentative.
His instinct initially appears to be to go leg side. He walks across to nudge to square leg, he plays that flick extravagantly in the air from outside off through square leg, he chips over midwicket, he paddles fine from the stumps. That last stroke led to his dismissal in the fourth game. He appears to take too many risks too soon, but he is a busy kind of batsman.
In the end, Tiwary made more runs on the off side today than on the leg. He stepped out to loft the offspinner Sachithra Senanayake over mid-off for a couple of fours. He drove the legspinner Jeevan Mendis between sweeper cover and long-off. His best stroke was when he charged out to thump the fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep - who had troubled him before with pace and bounce - between extra cover and mid-off. There were two close caught-behind appeals against him but he was on 46 by then, and had already proved his point.
Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, said Tiwary had produced the results under pressure. "His temperament has shown that he is up for the big occasion," Fletcher said. "He's basically made people stand up and look at him. He is a serious contender for a regular place in the one-day side."
In both games he got this series, Tiwary didn't let the innings get bogged down despite coming in at 60 for 3 and 87 for 3. Despite knowing that one failure could mean another prolonged spell on the bench. Despite knowing that his seems to be a thankless task; that even success could mean another prolonged spell on the bench. India's next ODI series is against Pakistan in December. That is too far away. Don't bet on Tiwary getting consecutive ODIs after this half-century. After all, he had to wait 14 games on the bench after a century.