Manoj Tiwary is facing flak after Bengal’s semifinal exit but he just brushed that aside. (Source: File)
Skipper Manoj Tiwary accepts “full responsibility” for Bengal’s batting meltdown in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Delhi in Pune. Despite starting well, Bengal’s campaign ended with a whimper as they lost by an innings and 26 runs after being bundled out for 86 in their second innings. Navdeep Saini’s pace and hostility exposed Bengal’s mental frailties. At the same time, Tiwary refused to write off the season as a failure because Bengal reached the last four, getting past defending champions Gujarat in the quarterfinals.
“We are a little soft. In the Ranji Trophy, we have to be tough individuals. And to become tough, we have to take the necessary process. The discussion has taken place as far as how to make the players (youngsters) a bit tougher mentally and obviously we are (also) going to look for players (in club cricket) who are mentally tough. And the players we already have, we will ensure that they go through the process of becoming mentally tougher,” Tiwary told The Indian Express.
Some Ranji teams have sort of a bullying culture in the dressing room to toughen up young players. Asked what does the Bengal dressing room do to make youngsters mentally stronger, Tiwary said: “We are not going to apply that. Our boys; we have to tackle their issues by having one-to-one conversations. The idea is to get the most out of the youngsters and if you see (this season), all the youngsters have performed really well. Abhishek Raman has scored more than 600 runs, Abhimanyu Easwaran more than 500. Other players as well. Anustup Majumder was lost but he made a roaring comeback. We have a different way of dealing with youngsters and the players are performing that way. It’s just that we didn’t do well in the semifinal.”
Tiwary described Bengal’s campaign as a season of progress. “We have reached the semifinals, which shows our progress compared to the last season and the season before that. So we are improving as a side. It was very unfortunate the kind of performance we showed against Delhi. “We played far below our potential. And because expectations were so high, a lot of people felt disappointed and disheartened. But the expectations rose only because we were playing outstanding cricket till the quarterfinals.”
Against Delhi, Bengal were 200/3 at one stage in their first innings. But they surrendered the advantage and folded for 286. Tiwary’s dismissal triggered a collapse. “Poor shot selection started from me. We lost the plot as a batting unit. I take full responsibility for our batting collapse, because I was the senior-most batsman and threw away my wicket.”
Did Bengal batsmen become fearful against Saini’s pace in the second innings? “In almost every first-class game, you will see a phase when you feel everything is working for the bowler. We should have wrested back the momentum from the bowler, but couldn’t. In the first innings, we handled him (Saini) well, even the youngsters.
“On a flat track the way he bowled, we have to give credit to him. He bowled in the right areas. Then again, we made it (Saini’s spell) look a bit (more) fiery. We suffered for poor decision-making. But if you want to win the Ranji Trophy, you have to face such spells and deal with them.”
With VVS Laxman around and Sourav Ganguly personally monitoring their preparation, he is not in favour of hiring a batting consultant. “What is required is a mental strength guy – a mental conditioning coach. It’s about time we introduce one to the Bengal boys.”
Tiwary is facing flak from some quarters after Bengal’s semifinal exit but he just brushed that aside. “They don’t have any work to do to be honest. Cricket is not played in the books.”
Going ahead, Tiwary wants to bring in a serious fitness culture a la the Indian team. “From next season, we will have certain non-negotiable fitness parameters for getting into the team. We have discussed that. It would be pretty similar to what the Indian team is doing right now. I told the boys after the last game that batting and bowling will come later. Certain fitness parameters will be set and everyone has to go through the test and qualify.”
Tiwary also threw his weight behind coach Sairaj Bahutule, saying: “He is contributing immensely in holding the team together. It’s not an easy job, especially in Bengal cricket – after just one loss criticism starts coming from different quarters. His work ethic is outstanding. And you have seen the results, the consistency in our performance. It was lacking before. And also in terms of developing the players; every player is getting help from the coach.”