Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
On Monday, Manoj Tiwary became only the second Bengal batsman, after Devang Gandhi's 323 in 1998-99, to make a first class triple-hundred, against Hyderabad. It allowed his side to charge to a bonus-point victory that puts them in a good position five games into the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season.
Three times previously this season, Tiwary failed to convert his starts into substantial scores. He started the season with 51 against Kerala on a rank turner in Thiruvananthapuram. Then, on a green-top at Eden Gardens against Andhra, he made 46 - a knock he felt needed him to work as hard as he would to make 150 elsewhere.
Last week, in a game that barely lasted two days, Tiwary made 48 as Bengal were handed a thrashing by defending champions Vidarbha on a dusty track. Coming back to home comforts, in Kalyani, he knew while the form hadn't deserted him, he had to make a big one for the team's sake to put them back in a good position building towards the knockouts.
On the first morning, he walked in to bat at 32 for 2. It soon became 60 for 3 when he joined hands with Anustup Majumdar to rebuild the innings. "Initially I counterattacked to just throw them off their plans," Tiwary told ESPNcricinfo after Bengal's innings and 303-run victory. "After I raced past a half-century, I knew I had to slow down just a bit. But as the day progressed the pitch eased out, so run-scoring became easy.
"The team needed it badly. In the game against Kerala, I kind of felt some pain in my back while evading a short-ball, and lost my focus after getting to a half-century. I could have come off, but I didn't want a new batsman to come in. So I carried on, but somehow couldn't get a big one. So I was determined to make this one count once set. In the other two games, as a batsman, you were never in because the conditions were really challenging. So when I saw this wicket, I knew if you spend time, the first hour or so, it will get easier and I was able to make it count."
Tiwary's return to big run-making mode bodes well for the team heading into the second half of the tournament. They will soon be without Abhimanyu Easwaran, the designated captain, who is set to fly out to New Zealand for the India A tour early next month. There are murmurs that Tiwary could once again be handed the captaincy. For the moment, Tiwary has only a simple request: "Those judging us need to watch our matches before looking at stats, else numbers won't give you a true picture.
"The way I've been batting, I would say the season has gone well. Some of the scores have come in challenging conditions, so I'm happy deep down. It's not always about the big knocks, you have to appreciate and value scores on rank turners or green tops. Every team is looking to maximise their home advantage because the competition in Groups A and B combined is stifling, and I see nothing wrong with that.
"Playing on tough wickets adds to the charm of the Ranji Trophy and when you make tough runs, it's pleasing. But my only request is for the selectors to actually start factoring in surfaces on which runs have come before forming their opinion, instead of just looking at score-books."
On the team front, he is particularly pleased to see Bengal back to winning ways, reserving special praise for Akash Deep, the 23-year old fast bowler, who has so far picked up 16 wickets in four matches. With Ishan Porel away with India A in New Zealand, Akash Deep and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmed, who picked up a hat-trick in the first innings and ended with match figures of 6 for 77, have become key components of their bowling attack.
"Akash Deep is someone who should be looked after immediately. If India want another genuine quick who has promise, they should give him a try," he said. "He bowls 140 and above, has an excellent bouncer, bowls consistently. He should be taken into the fast bowling talent pool at the NCA immediately and given chances. I think he's India A material already. He deserves a proper road map, he could go great things going forward."
Tiwary had told ESPNcricinfo prior to the season that his aim was to play as long as possible, even maybe for another 10 years. He has had time to reflect on those words, but the commitment still remains.
"Oh yes, without doubt. I'm ready to do what it takes," he said. "I'm working hard on my fitness, I know I have to keep scoring runs consistently. I've always had to work hard, so that is nothing new. I want my son to see what his dad does on the cricket field, so that remains a motivating factor.
"He's just two, I've just started under-arming rubber balls to him at the park. When he's seven or eight, hopefully he can watch his dad still playing."