India vs New Zealand: Focus on Rohit Sharma as selectors meet to choose Test squad

Mumbai : The below-par Test record of Rohit Sharma is expected to be the focus of discussion when the selection committee, headed by Sandeep Patil, picks the Indian cricket squad for the home Test series against New Zealand.

Despite Rohit’s poor form in the Tests, he has the confidence of captain Virat Kohli, who feels that the ODI specialist should be given a longer run to prove himself in the Test format.

The star Mumbai batsman, who holds the world record for the highest score in ODIs, could never settle down in the longest format during his delayed 18-Test career that began with a bang — with back-to-back tons against the West Indies in 2013 in India.

Considered to be a batsman with a wide range of strokes, Rohit has been in and out of the playing XI since then with consistency not his forte in Tests.

In the recent series against the West Indies in the Caribbean, he got a chance to play in two out of four games, one of which was washed out, and he mustered 9 and 41 in the two innings in the third Test at Gros Islet.

How much patience will the selectors continue to have on the talented but under-performing 29-year-old batsman at the Test level is a matter of conjecture.

Rohit also did not do well in the first innings of the ongoing Duleep Trophy final in Greater Noida after being specifically included in one of the teams — India Blue — following his return from the West Indies and the USA.

He made just 30 runs yesterday before throwing his wicket away.

With quite a few talented youngsters like Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair waiting in the wings, the selectors will have a tough task at hands.

Another top-order batsman who has come under the scanner is Cheteshwar Pujara. He was dropped for the final Test against the West Indies, along with successful opener in past Test rubbers — Murali Vijay –, by the tour management.

Pujara grafted his way to 62 runs from two innings, but has since then answered the selectors’ queries with back-to-back hundreds in the Duleep Trophy and is likely to be included in the squad which, more or less, should be the same that toured the West Indies and won the series 2-0.

Ravindra Jadeja is another player who has been asked to play in the Duleep Trophy after getting just one game in the West Indies, in which he scored 22 runs and picked up three wickets at Gros Islet. He was dropped for the fourth and final Port of Spain game, which got washed out.

It could be a toss-up between him, Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who has grabbed 13 wickets in two games for India Red in the ongoing Duleep Trophy, and orthodox leggie Amit Mishra.

Mishra played in two out of four Tests in the West Indies, for grabbing two out of three spinners’ slots in the squad to support premier slow bowler Ravichandran Ashwin.

Mohammed Shami, the only Indian bowler to take more than 10 wickets against the Windies other than Ashwin, looks a certainty to spearhead the pace attack along with Ishant Sharma — the most experienced bowler in this lot.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur were the others who completed the pace quintet in the West Indies. But with the series being held in sub continent conditions, it looks unlikely that all of them will be a part of the squad.

As India have a lengthy spell of Test cricket, 13 games in all till the visit by the Australians in February-March, 2017, the selectors may also decide to go in for rotating the fast bowling resources.

A call-up for someone like Varun Aaron, now touring Australia with the India ‘A’ squad, does not appear far-fetched at some stage of the season.

The others in the squad to the Windies, including wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, are expected to be retained against the Kiwis who are to start their tour with a three-Test rubber.