Cricket - Manoj Tiwary
Taking a fresh guard: Manoj Tiwary at a net practice session for his state ahead of Ranji Trophy. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: There is exactly no dearth of the cricketer-turned-politician in India, but one was yet to see a minister weilding his bat for his state team in first class cricket. Manoj Tiwary, a former Indian batter and one of the leading rungetters for his state Bengal, has ticked the ‘first’ to his name as he is a part of the squad in their ongoing Ranji Trophy match against Baroda in Cuttack in eastern India.

Now 36, Tiwary is a Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs in the Mamata Banerjee 3.0 government since her party was voted to power for the third time after winning a bitterly fought assembly elections last year. It’s been hence quite a paradigm shift in the lifestyle for Tiwary, who has now locked himself in the bio bubble created in the team hotel in Bhubaneshwar, the Odisha capital.

‘‘Yes, stepping into the bubble is a bit of culture shock for me as my job is now to interact with people. However, I am really enjoying this experience as whatever I have achieved in life is because of cricket. While I don’t have anything left to prove, my desire is to win the Ranji Trophy once for Bengal,’’ Tiwary said during a telephone interview with Gulf News.

Cricket - Manoj Tiwary
Manoj Tiwary takes oath as a minister for the West Bengal government last year. Image Credit: Social media

A hidden ambition to lay hands on the Ranji trophy is a praiseworthy one, but the former Bengal captain admits that the job will not be getting any easier with increasing competition. ‘‘It’s a one-ball game for the batsmen, hence there is no guarantee for success. However, I had a feeling that I was drawing a line prematurely to my career which had been a passion. When the offer to join the political arena came from Didi (Mamata Banerjee), I made it very clear that I wanted to pursue the sport for few more few more years - and she has wholeheartedly agreed to that,’’ she said.

Tiwary, who had donned the India colours in white ball cricket between 2008 and 2015, is considered to be arguably the finest batter from the state in the post-Sourav Ganguly era. An ardent admirer of Kevin Pietersen’s style, he is often regarded as one of the unluckiest of cricketers as injuries have often put a spanner in his dreams of making it big in the national colours - while he was often ignored despite prolific runs at the domestic level.

The current format of Ranji sees Bengal scheduled to play three matches in the group stages of the Main Plate - something which entails him to stay inside the bubble for a month and then take it from there. Asked how difficult it is for someone in the public life to cut himself away and also miss the family, a candid Tiwary said: ‘‘I have got a machinery in place in my constituency who are looking after people’s grievances. Yes, one does miss the family but both my wife and mother had been extremely supportive about my pursuit of the game. As for life in the bubble, I am utilising the downtime for some self development - reading up a book on leadership skills and one on Chanakya. I am trying to avoid as much Netflix as possible.’’

Tiwary also had a decent run in the IPL circuit till a few years back - having been a part of the Kolkata Knight Riders’ first title-winning squad in 2012, followed by stints with Delhi Capitals, Pune Supergiants and Punjab Kings. He had registered himself for the 2022 auction but had gone unsold - something which he has taken in his stride. ‘‘I wanted to give it a shot as I felt that with more players required in the pool this time, I can bring value with my role as a finisher or even in the top order. However, it’s certainly not the end of the world,’’ a relaxed Tiwary said on the eve of taking a fresh guard.

FAQs on Ranji Trophy

The 2021-22 Ranji Trophy, India’s premier domestic red ball competition, kicked off on Thursday and will be held in two phases with the IPL in between. The first phase, which consists of league matches and one pre-quarter-final, on March 15. The IPL is expected to start on March 27. Before the Ranji pre-quarter-final, there will be three rounds of matches held: the first from February 17-20, then February 24-27 and finally, from March 3-6. The second phase, of the knockouts, is likely to begin on May 30 - after the IPL has concluded - and run up to June 26.