Rohit Sharma needs to make it count, its either now or never © AFP
Rohit Sharma needs to make it count, its either now or never © AFP

148 matches, 5,008 runs, 10 hundreds, 28 fifties, a highest of 264; Rohit Sharma‘s ‘talent’ has brought him this much success in One-Day International Cricket (ODI). A weapon of mass destruction in limited-overs cricket, he has the ability to take the game away from the opposition, the moment he finds his feet. Perhaps his blue India jersey No. 45, has some supernatural powers, he is a rockstar, when he puts it on. However, that is not where the problem lies, for Rohit. It’s Test cricket where he hasn’t been able really make it count; Test cricket where he hasn’t been able to adapt; Test cricket, which has now, itself started asking him questions, if he really belongs here. And therein lies the rub.

In a career of 18 Tests, Rohit has accumulated 946 runs, at an average of 32.62. In 16 out of the last 18 Tests, his average has dropped down to 23.5. But all this while, the board, selectors, team, coach Anil Kumble and Test captain Virat Kohli, have not shied away, from praising Rohit’s caliber in Tests, that still needs to be proven. They have in fact, gone on to call him a ‘gifted’ batsman and have shown faith in him, while looking to offer him a ‘longer run’ in the format. Yes, his position in the team, was under scrutiny, but the support Rohit has got from the people close to the team, has been kind of, ‘lucky’ for him. For a second you might really call him ‘gifted’, despite under-performing in whites for some time now.

When Kohli after the Test at Gros Islet against West Indies, voiced his opinion about Rohit occupying the No. 5 spot and was even willing to sacrifice his No. 4 position and come further up the order, in future Tests, it looked like there was no place for Cheteshwar Pujara in Kohli’s plans. “We made three changes and we understood Rohit needs to be backed at a particular position. I batted at No 3, Jinks [Rahane] at No. 4. Rohit is dangerous at No. 5 and take the game away in a session. That means I take up the extra responsibility at No. 3. I don’t mind that and someone like Ashwin is batting well,” captain Kohli said, after that game. READ: India vs New Zealand: How much can India tinker with batting order?

Pujara, who had been low on confidence, struggling to make it big, returned to India, played in the Duleep Trophy, and scored big for India Blue. His knocks of 166, 31 and 256 not out, changed the scenario completely. The pitches were different, the Pujara we saw was different. And why not, he was in his own backyard. Rohit on the other hand, named in the team sheet to play in the Final of the tournament, with the Pink ball, failed to shine again. 30 in the first innings, and an unbeaten 32 in the second, Rohit would have loved to got a big one, before India’s Test series against New Zealand. But that didn’t happen.  READ: India vs New Zealand: Hosts eye demolition

New Zealand for their three-day practice game, had Ranji Trophy 2015-16 champions Mumbai, to give them some preparation ahead of the Test series, that will begin September 22. Rohit, was in the Mumbai team too. But Rohit still couldn’t steal the attention. Out stumped to leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, for just 18, Rohit had not done himself any favours, ahead of the all-important series. Forget continuing to bat at No. 5, he might not even make it to the team sheet for the first Test at Green Park, Kanpur now. READ: India vs New Zealand: Cheteshwar Pujara makes a statement on ‘aggression’ with the bat

What would have made him feel worse after the warm-up game, would be the fact that his other Mumbai teammates, had instead enjoyed their time in the middle. Centuries from Kaustubh Pawar, Suryakumar Yadav and Siddhesh Lad and half-centuries from Arman Jaffer and Aditya Tare, would have left him dissatisfied. Now though, he approaches a crunch situation.

The three-match Test series against New Zealand, might not come with many opportunities for Rohit, considering the kind of form Pujara is walking into the series with. And if Pujara does miss out of one of the games, which is highly unlikely, Rohit will have to make it count with a big innings. And even that, would just be enough to keep him in the 15-man squad for the further Test series’ at home. Also, if Rohit fails to perform in the upcoming series, it won’t take long for Indian cricket fans to understand that the selectors, coach and captain were backing the wrong horse throughout. READ: India vs New Zealand: What makes New Zealand strong?

Rohit’s position in the squad, if he fails, will also be at threat from many itching to earn a Test cap and some wanting to mark a return. Manish Pandey, having had a successful start to his ODI career, is yearning for Test call-up. So is Shreyas Iyer. Apart from them, Gautam Gambhir too has done enough to get a look in, so has Mayank Agarwal. Obviously, Gambhir or Agarwal won’t bat at No. 5, but they can adjust somewhere. A guy like Sheldon Jackson too, could pose a threat. A fine run of form in the Duleep Trophy might help their cause. But candidates are plenty, and position at stake is just one. Of course, it’s for Rohit’s to lose.

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative,” as Herbert George Wells, the English writer once said, should be Rohit’s mantra as for now. The series against New Zealand is crucial for India, and him. If he gets in, and doesn’t give it away, he will be a success, that is for sure. For that he will need to adapt with the format though,  more than what he has till now. Rohit needs his patience, skill and concentration aspects more into play for that.

After all, he knows how one delivery, one mistake is enough to send him back. He can at least not look to invite it to him. He knows if he disappoints again, his position will be in jeopardy, and the ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’ tag, won’t come to rescue him this time around.

(Karan Dewana reporter with CricketCountry, loves following and playing sports. He is a Team India fan and loves winning. Follow him on his twitter handle @karan13dewan)