He has been unlucky in the past, but 26-year-old Manoj Tiwary hasn’t taken too long to realize that when opportunity knocks once, you’re probably not sure it will do so again. So when his team was off to one of its worst possible starts, one run for the loss of two wickets, against West Indies in the fifth One Day International (ODI) in Chennai on 11 December, Tiwary came out to score his maiden ODI century.
That man-of-the-match-winning knock gave him his ticket to Australia for the T20 and triangular ODI series, starting 1 February and 5 February, respectively. Tiwary certainly doesn’t have the fondest memories of playing cricket Down Under. He made his debut in the Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008, but scored just two runs in the only innings he got to play. Tiwary will be keen to start afresh and carry the Chennai momentum and confidence to what has been a difficult tour for India. Edited excerpts from an interview before he left for Australia:
High expectations: Manoj Tiwary says he won’t be under pressure in Australia. By Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
How important is this series for you personally?
It is extremely important and challenging because Australia is one of the toughest places to play cricket in. That is because of the conditions and wickets there. They have a quality attack made up of genuine pace bowlers. The same goes for the Sri Lankan team (which is also part of the triangular). So it is crucial for me to perform to the best of my ability, especially now when expectations are higher after that century. Whenever I get the opportunity, I have to be consistent. I have got a start in international cricket. It’s equally important, though, to start afresh and score as much as I can.
Going by the Test results and the performance of the Indian team, do you feel more pressured to perform? Does that affect your psyche in any way?
I am not going to land there thinking about that result. Yes, we were following the Test series here, but as a professional cricketer, you don’t want to think about the past, and focus on the present instead. My complete concentration will be on the T20 and ODI series. There will not be any pressure. I am sure the dressing room atmosphere is good. I have spoken to some of my teammates there and the morale is high despite the loss. I don’t believe the other players will think about the defeat either.
Do you feel India are in transition at the moment?
This is tough for me to answer because we have seen the same side doing well in the recent past, barring a few results in the last two series. That happens in cricket. I don’t want to think too much about this now. My job is to contribute on the field. I am not thinking of anything else apart from my job and my role.
Tell us about the struggle and how you worked at getting back into the reckoning.
My struggle began in my childhood. It was tough for my family too. I have seen many high and low points in my life, and that is probably why I am mentally strong now. I knew that the only way for me to come into the team was by scoring a lot of runs. I did that for a couple of years at the highest level of domestic cricket. That made it easy for me to be selected. I knew that transition from domestic to international cricket would come. I have a lot of self-belief. I had to battle with injuries and that period was tough, frustrating, because I had to start all over again, come back from there and make a point.
You know how to grab an opportunity and make the most of it. How important will it be for you to keep that momentum going in this series?
This time, I will be there from the start of the series, which will help me. I will land a week in advance, which is certainly an advantage for us heading from here. We will have to get used to the bounce and will need a few net sessions before the T20 game. It will otherwise be difficult to adjust to the bounce in the match. There is a lot of difference in playing with the red and the white ball. After eight or 10 overs, the white ball doesn’t do much. So we will have to negotiate the bounce. I know though that I have to start afresh. This is a big challenge and if I can do well in Australia, my confidence will be high. We have seen that if someone does well in Australia, it becomes easy to play on other surfaces.
Do you then believe that good performances abroad will get you more opportunities?
I believe we have to perform anywhere irrespective of the conditions. Scoring 50s and 100s in Indian conditions is not at all easy. It is easy for someone who has played 100 matches because they are used to handling the pressure. The situation will be more difficult overseas, but for youngsters like me, it is equally tough at home.
How have you prepared yourself for this tour?
I practised with wet tennis balls in Kolkata. That is just to make my feet move quicker. I practised with a shorter distance, so the ball comes quickly at you. I can counter pace and bounce that way. I feel good after that. But when you get on to the field, it is not just the hard work or planning that matters. It is the shot-making and your decision making that counts.
Any advice from a former or senior cricketer that has helped you?
We played a Ranji game in Baroda (Vadodara) and that is where I had a long chat with Sourav Ganguly, and he suggested a slight change in stance—to be a little upright. He said that would help me counter bounce and handle it better.
Rupha Ramani is a senior sports correspondent with CNN-IBN.
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