"I cried a lot," says Manoj Tiwary as he remembers the time he suffered a freak injury on the morning of his ODI debut in Bangladesh. Four one-day international series followed the Bangladesh tour in a nine-month duration, until the wait for a first cap eventually ended for the Bengal batsman in Australia.
The word has almost become an unmuffled undertone in Manoj Tiwary's international career. However, before we learn about his gut-wrenching, yet inspirational story of undying spirit and self-belief through the many hardships, it is important to take note of the incredible numbers which establish him as a stalwart in Indian domestic circuit.
In 119 First-class matches, Tiwary has scored 8,752 runs at an average of 51.78. His highest individual score of 303* came earlier this week - on January 20 - against Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy. The triple-ton - a maiden one in 34-year-old Tiwary's career, steered Bengal to earning a bonus point as the side secured an innings-and-303 run victory. The Bengal batsman's inbox has been largely busy since.
"(I am) loving all the messages that have been coming across through SMSes, Twitter, everywhere," he said in an exclusive interview with India TV Digital. "I was surprised to see messages from people who I was not expecting. It shows that somewhere down their heart, they do have a soft corner for me. The love and affection is always there and I'm humbled to see those messages."
The innings may put him in the record books for being only the second Bengal player to slam a triple-century, but his answer to whether the innings was his best-ever is almost instantaneous - and in the negative.
"I would rate the 94 in the Ranji final (2006-07) against Mumbai as my best innings. It was against the attack of Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Romesh Powar, which was literally the Indian attack at the time. I was pretty young and was making my mark in the Ranji Trophy. Moreover, Sachin paaji (Sachin Tendulkar) was also playing in the opposition, so it was special. It was not only about facing, but dominating that attack," said the Bengal veteran.
He also recollects his ODI century against the West Indies in 2011.
"Also, the hundred I made for my country (is one of my best innings). I got a man of the match. Any performance you do for your country has to be at the top - there's no two ways about it. It was memorable because I contributed to a game which India won. The triple-ton has to be there up-close with the other two because triple-hundreds don't come often in four-day format of Ranji Trophy," said Tiwary.
The emergence as a hero had barely begun for Tiwary when he slammed 103 against the West Indies. The story, however, remains largely unwritten. He sat in the reserves for 14 successive matches after his maiden ton in ODIs. After all, India is a land of fierce competition when it comes to cricket - more so when one takes up the bat.
Since making his ODI debut in 2008, the Bengal batsman has played 12 ODIs for the side in a stretch of seven years. Runs have barely dried up in domestic circuit, but a place in the Indian squad has remained a dream since 2015. While it is easier to lose hope under such circumstances, Tiwary talks about his motivation with raw intimacy.
"The passion and love for the game (is what keeps me motivated). I have something to prove to myself and not to others - whether it's a snub from IPL or other things where you are not considered because people want to look ahead and build the team accordingly. Whatever is going around outside, I have to prove to myself that I'm good enough," believes the former Bengal captain.
"It's not only about you getting motivated by yourself, but looking to give something back to cricket. So many youngsters look up to you and it becomes more important to go out there, because your team is dependent on you. No matter how many promising youngsters come, they will take time. Players like me have been through all the situations, so motivating myself comes automatically. I feel pride and honour to represent Bengal. Performing for my state team gives me pride and satisfaction."
Externally, the cricketer draws motivation from sports like football and basketball.
"I try and read and watch other athletes' life stories to get inspired and pumped up," tells the batsman.
"I'm a very keen follower of sports like basketball and soccer. You know, almost all the athletes of colour have been through struggles, and when those players come up and play at the highest level, then why can't we? Our struggles in comparison have been minimal." Minimal it may be, but going through the phase he faced at a raw age of 22 is a difficult ask.
It was then, when he was called up to the Indian squad for the first time. A place in the playing XI was on the reckoning - especially after the side had a disastrous World Cup barely a month ago.
However, he was ruled out with an injury before he could make his debut. "I cried a lot. I used to watch a lot of motivational videos then. One of those videos was of Derek Redmond, a runner who got injured at the Olympics. The way he finished with a hamstring tear, it was quite moving. When I watched the video during that phase, it motivated me," remembers Tiwary.
"No matter how badly injured he was, at least he tried and finished the race along with the help of his father. The video is always there in the back of my head."Now, over a period of time, when you get matured, you think better and the clarity of thought is there. I have been through so many injuries during my cricketing career which has made me stronger mentally.
I'm now used to dealing with these situations."He feels gratitude towards the physios throughout his career who helped him get back on the field every time he was down.
"Injuries are something you cannot help. The only way you can cope with it is looking forward. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my physios at NCA and CAB to look after me and make me able to get back on the field," said Tiwary.
Often, when the things don't go one's way, negativity peeps in, paving way for frustration and anger. In Tiwary's case, it is a little harder to not delve into perspective. An unceremonious ouster for 14 consecutive games after an ODI ton filled him with frustration at the time. Did he ever feel like giving it up?"If I say that I didn't feel like that at all, I'd be lying," says Tiwari.
"That thought process comes in. You get frustrated, but you have to see it from a different angle. What you have to do ahead is more important than sulking to what has not happened with you.
"There are people who show sympathy, but at the end of the day, you've got to sit down and think on what is going to be better for you in the future. And that is how I dealt with that. Deep down, I also wanted to be a hero, but as I said, destiny had other plans and you can't do anything with it.
"It seems the multiple setbacks have since led Tiwary to take charge of his own destiny.
In this season, he is the highest scorer from his state side so far (494 runs in five matches @ average of 98.80). While he said before the start of the season that he targets a thousand-run mark in Ranji Trophy, he now insists that setting targets in such a tournament is 'something an individual shouldn't do'.
"Before this triple-hundred, I got to learn one thing. Setting a target is something an individual shouldn't do. Simply because of the nature of the format," explained the 34-year-old Bengal batsman.
"In the Ranji trophy, we're in the elite table. To get the maximum points, teams are taking home advantage. Either they make a rank-turner or a green top. It becomes challenging for a batsman to set a target before the season in such a situation. If you know the sort of wickets you're going to face, you can set the target.
"But I would love to contribute more. The possibility of scoring a thousand runs is not far. It's not going to be easy. I don't want to set a target - whatever comes, I'll take it. As far as the team is concerned, the first target is to reach the knock-out stages.
"Today, Tiwary is a senior figure in Bengal and Indian cricket. While he may not have had the most fortunate of international careers, he acknowledges that his struggles and unpleasant encounters with luck have been key to what he is today.
In times when many young players across the sport have been vocal about their issues - both, on and off the field on public forums, Tiwary's story of strength becomes a shining example."You got to find your own way of dealing with your struggle," tells the batsman.
"You got to be living in the present and do what you can do. Confidence comes from self-belief."Being in the right frame of the mind leads individuals to identify their well-wishers. Hanging out with individuals who can inspire you at your difficult times is important. It's all about your mind. If it is in a right state of thought-process, everything falls into place.
"Talking about his struggle with injuries, Tiwary stressed that sportsperson often tend to overthink during such phases, which could lead to further negativity.
"We tend to overthink a lot. During an injury phase, a person has to go through rehab, the same exercises over and over again. You go back to the hotel or home and you can't do anything."You got to be active with other things as well. That makes you learn about yourself. You need to utilize your time because it would help you be a better version of yourself.
"I personally consider myself lucky enough to have two arms, two legs, two eyes, walking. I do think about people who don't have such blessing. The perception gets you a clarity in your mind," said Tiwary, as he signs off.