Bengal, who didn’t feature in the first round of Ranji Trophy action this season, open their campaign against Uttar Pradesh in Jaipur from Thursday. The team members couldn’t enjoy Durga Puja fully as they had to leave for the Pink City on Monday. ToI caught up with skipper Manoj Tiwary, who looked ahead to the season with great expectations.How do you look back at the last season?

I felt we were pretty consistent in the four-day format to make the knockout stage. But we failed to maintain the momentum in the shorter formats. The seniors performed well below expectations and my injury during the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 meet also hampered the team’s cause. Overall, we didn’t perform to our potential.

How has the preparation been this time?

I am optimistic because I feel Bengal cricket is going in the right direction. We have developed good work ethics and all the boys are working hard. The Vision 2020 project has helped us a lot. The youngsters have learnt a lot from VVS Laxman, Muttiah Muralitharan and TA Sekar, who have had one-on-one sessions with the boys.

How do you see Bengal’s group this time?

I always believe if you want to win the Ranji Trophy , you will have to beat the best sides. So it’s good to be in a strong group. We are up for the challenge. I see Bengal lifting the Ranji Trophy this time.

Does it help to have an ex-India skipper as CAB president?

Sourav takes immense interest in the team. He is in constant touch with me and Sairaj (Bahutule), and gives us valuable inputs. He visits our practice sessions quite often. He is always ready to provide us with whatever we need.

You will miss some seasoned campaigners like LR Shukla and Sourashis Lahiri…

Yes, nobody can replace them. But we prefer to focus more on what we have rather than what we will miss. The youngsters showed good temperament in the pre-season KSCA tournament victory where we beat teams like Karnataka and Mumbai.

How is it working with Sairaj Bahutule?

He (Sairaj) has tremendous experience and we both think alike as far as cricket is concerned.We share a good rapport. How do Manoj Tiwary the captain function? I prefer a happy dressing room which is so essential for a good performance on the field. That’s why I communicate with everybody. I tell them beforehand who is playing and who is not, and also explain why someone is not playing. I had myself suffered due to a lack of communication during my initial playing days, which can lead to negative thoughts. I don’t want that to happen in this team.

You are not in any IPL team, you weren’t picked for the Duleep Trophy. Is Manoj Tiwary fading away?

No at all. See I was not picked by any IPL franchise because I suffered a bad calf muscle injury before the auction. That’s why nobody was sure about my fitness.But yes, not being picked for the Duleep Trophy surprised me. I feel I am still as good as any other player and my performance will be noticed sooner than later.