Manoj Tiwary: A minister takes his final bow on the cricket pitch

The best batter from Bengal after Sourav Ganguly, the state captain leaves behind 10,000-plus runs and a lot of memories

Manoj Tiwary walks back after the last innings of his career at Eden Gardens on Saturday (photo: CAB Media)
Manoj Tiwary walks back after the last innings of his career at Eden Gardens on Saturday (photo: CAB Media)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

There is no guarantee that sport will offer you a fairytale ending, and it was proved all over again when cricketer-turned-minister Manoj Tiwary finally called time on a first-class career spanning over two decades on Sunday, 18 February. If he wanted to compensate for the ‘unlucky’ tag in his international career by laying his hands on the Ranji Trophy as Bengal captain in the 2023-24 season, it was not to be.

At 38, Manoj is certainly one of his kind. While Indian politics is not exactly a stranger to well-known cricketers joining the arena, there has been no precedent of an active minister playing first-class cricket with flair.

It’s surely not easy to juggle the two responsibilities but the minister of state for youth services and sports in the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal took up the challenge in the 2022-23 season and led his state to a runners-up finish in the last Ranji Trophy final earlier this year.

Much as his tryst in international cricket, the Ranji crown proved to be a case of so-near-yet-so-far for Manoj who played in four finals but ended up on the wrong side. An MLA from Shibpur in Howrah, he called it quits last season itself but it was at the insistence of his wife Susmita and the top brass of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) that he decided to give it one more shot.

However, Bengal failed as a team and exited from the group stages itself, while Manoj’s last hurrah with the bat ended in a whimper as he fell to a dubious LBW decision while looking good on a patient 30 against Bihar before the empty stands at the Eden Gardens.

Manoj Tiwary at Eden Gardens
Manoj Tiwary at Eden Gardens
(photo: CAB Media)

The love and respect that he enjoys among the Indian cricketing fraternity was evident as a crestfallen Manoj walked away one last time with the teammates giving him a standing ovation as coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla, an erstwhile teammate, walked him back to the home team’s dressing room.

Arguably the best batter the state has produced after Sourav Ganguly, his last first-class season saw Manoj reaching the 10,000-run mark in first-class cricket — an endorsement of his longevity and prolific scoring abilities.

As for his stint in the Indian team, the middle-order batter has had a chequered career with ill-timed injuries and selection foibles not really helping his cause. Once regarded as a serious threat to Rohit Sharma’s place in the ODI team, Manoj ought to have done much better than just 12 one-day internationals and three T20Is between 2008 and 2015. This included a century against the West Indies in 2011, but somehow, he failed to earn the confidence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

‘’Manoj Tiwary is not the most fortunate man in Indian cricket,’’ once wrote as his profile, and that’s as cryptic a comment as it can get.

As tough competition gradually started pushing Manoj, a big fan of Kevin Pietersen’s art of batting, out of reckoning for a recall, the arrival of IPL gave a bigger context to his career. Manoj was a member of Kolkata Knight Riders’ title-winning squad in 2012 and also turned out for Delhi Daredevils (now re-christened), Punjab Kings and Rising Pune Supergiant.

Once the dust settles on his retirement, it will be time for Manoj to go back to his current vocation, politics. With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, it remains to be seen if there are any bigger roles in store for him!

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