Bengal's Manoj Tiwary: 'This desire to win the Ranji Trophy is still burning bright'

He's lost three Ranji finals, his body aches and he is a sitting minister - but Tiwary has not stopped dreaming of that elusive title yet

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Manoj Tiwary celebrates his triple-hundred, Ranji Trophy 2019-20, January 21, 2020

Can Tiwary reach a fourth Ranji final, and hopefully for Bengal, give the team their first title since 1990?  •  PTI

For the past year, Manoj Tiwary, a sitting minister for youth affairs and sports in West Bengal, has visited his constituency in Shibpur, near Howrah, four days a week. The only exceptions have been for a short while in February-March, for the league phase of the Ranji Trophy, and now, for three weeks, ahead of the quarterfinals.
Bengal have made the knockouts for the second straight season. In March 2020, they came heartbreakingly close to winning their first title since the 1989-1990 season, when they had beaten a star-studded Delhi. That 1990 season is remembered for Sourav Ganguly's grand entry in the final, at the expense of his older brother Snehasish, and current coach Arun Lal's rich run of form.
Two years since the Saurashtra heartbreak, Bengal are trying go one step further and make up for what they couldn't in Rajkot two years ago. It's this itch of trying to get his hands on silverware that has kept Tiwary going, despite a wonky back, aching knees, and broken cartilages.
The 45-minute drive from Tiwary's residence in upscale DC Dey Road in EM Bypass to his office at the Secretariat building takes him past Eden Gardens. The glass facade outside the iconic venue has a small photo of the Bengal Ranji champions in a small corner. He wants to put the current team's photo there.
"This desire to win the Ranji Trophy is still burning bright, it's that strong sense of achievement and purpose that has kept me going" Tiwary tells ESPNcricinfo. "Growing up, I dreamt of leading Bengal to the title. That couldn't happen. I then wanted to simply be part of a winning team. We came so close in 2020, but there's still some unfinished business. I hope we can do it this time. That is my biggest motivation at this stage of my career."
Tiwary has been part of three finals now. In the first in 2005-06, he saw Bengal losing because of a 14-run first-innings deficit to Uttar Pradesh. In 2006-07, they suffered stage fright against Mumbai's might; Tiwary's two substantial contributions were the only positives for Bengal in a 132-run defeat.
In 2019-20, Tiwary battled with an injured finger after copping a blow trying to evade a short ball. Until the eve of the final, he was withering in pain and had to take painkillers to take the field. Pulling out wasn't an option, and so he took the field against Saurashtra with pain.
"I wanted to play, come what may," he says. "I have had so many injuries in my career over the years that pain had become second nature by then. I knew if I keep thinking of pain even now, I'm not going to do myself or the team any justice. I did whatever it took to be ready. And similarly, over the last two years, I haven't let injuries and niggles come in the way of my training."
Even for someone as determined as Tiwary, his body gave him signs to slow down. Late in 2020, a knee injury while in the middle of a weight-training session flared up when his cartilage broke into two fragments. "It was a two-inch piece that broke and was floating inside," he says. "I took injections to manage the pain and play, but it was really painful. While batting, it hampered my feet movement. I just couldn't move."
Tiwary gave up playing 50-overs cricket that season to keep himself ready for the Ranji Trophy. Once it became evident the first-class season was going to be a non-starter, he started thinking of other avenues. One of them was IPL commentary in Bengali. While he enjoyed the preparation and the "fun of it", it "wasn't the same as playing in it."
This was around the time he got a call from Mamata Banerjee, the current chief minister of West Bengal, to contest in the elections. Over the next four months, he poured in hours and hours of campaigning, often starting at 6am and going on well past midnight, only to repeat the same routine for 45 days at a stretch. It all came to fruition when he was elected as a Member of Parliament from Shibpur, the place he grew up near Howrah.
Playing active role in politics while also being a cricketer is unheard of. There have been numerous examples of Indian cricketers entering politics post their playing days - Navjot Sidhu, Kirti Azad and Mohammad Azharuddin come to mind immediately. Tiwary felt he could manage his time well, and the pandemic only helped him set routines that have helped.
"I still go through all the files, keep track of work that has been initiated in the constituency, and keep monitoring progress through my team of assistants," he says. "I'm never switched off that way, even if I'm far away, like now in Bengaluru. I've set a routine and my team ensures most things are up to speed. They don't come to me for every little thing. That allows me to also stay focused on cricket."
Amid his training sessions and constituency work, Tiwary ensures the evenings are free to spend time with his young family. While on tour, it's his chance to catch up with his mates, many of whom look up to him as an elder brother, for advice. Tiwary, on his part, keeps things light.
"You don't want to keep things too process oriented all the time," he says. "We enjoy a bit of downtime on tour. We enjoy doing things we like, we bond well. The team spirit and atmosphere within the camp is really good. The previous campaign got us all so close together. We're a young team and as a senior player, it's my duty to help them and guide them along the way. I know we're on the right track. Yes, we didn't win the trophy two years ago, but if we keep doing what we've done so far, it's just a matter of time."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo