India vs New Zealand: Rohit Sharma stands up at the crunch moment, strengthens his case - Firstpost
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India vs New Zealand: Rohit Sharma stands up at the crunch moment, strengthens his case

If there are words that might often go with each other in a sentence, they are - talent, joy, frustration, and Rohit Sharma.

One moment he can show flashes of brilliance with some sublime strokes and the very next, he can show utter carelessness with that 'mistimed loft in hands of the mid on' shot at a crucial moment just before lunch, tea or stumps. It's been three years since Rohit made his debut in Test cricket, but he still remains an enigma.

From a blistering debut to losing his place in the side to fighting for a place in the starting XI - For someone who's christened as 'Talent', this roller-coaster ride has been surprising.

Just four innings ago, Rohit had come in at a tricky position, worked hard to get a start and then threw it away with that 'catch to mid on', just seven overs before the end of first day's play. And four innings later, he has played two crucial innings for India.

Rohit Sharma in action at Eden Garden. PTI

Rohit Sharma in action at Eden Garden. PTI

As always, the Mumbai batsman's place was already under threat coming into New Zealand the series. In his last 16 Tests he had aggregated just 658 runs at an average of 23.5. With the musical chair battle going on with Cheteshwar Pujara, his chances of making it to the XI looked bleak, especially with Pujara scoring heavily in the Duleep Trophy. It didn't help that Rohit failed in the same tournament as well as in the tour match against the New Zealanders, when almost every other batsmen made merry.

However, with captain Virat Kohli veering from his favoured five-bowler strategy to a four-bowler one, Rohit and Pujara both were accommodated in the first two Tests. With a change in approach, Pujara started off well and scored 62 in the first innings of first Test at Kanpur, Rohit got a start but then unsurprisingly, frittered it away. It would have piled on the pressure.

He walked out to bat in the second innings with India in a decent position and already gaining a lead of 284 but there was still work to be done. The pitch had started to crumble and India had lost Vijay, Kohli and Pujara at regular intervals. The need of the hour was quick runs.

Batting at No 6 can be tricky, it could leave you with the tail, or demand quick runs, especially when setting up targets with time running out. These two situations can make it tougher for a batsman especially when fighting for his place in the side. Rohit was in a similar position - there was a need to accelerate but in process, a false shot could have meant two failures in a row. However, he came out unscratched with 68* from 93 balls at strike rate of 73.11, ably supported by Ravindra Jadeja who scored a brisk 58-ball 50 to help India set up an improbable target of 434. Then there was a twist in the tale as Rohit's career curve demanded a twist, and so came the failure in the first innings of the second Test, as he was caught at short leg for just two on Day one of the Kolkata Test.

Again, under pressure, he walked out to bat in the second innings. But this time it was tougher than the first day, the conditions overcast, the pitch playing mind games with variable bounce, India stuttering at 43/4 and New Zealand pacers Matt Henry and Trent Boult bowling with good rhythm. This time, there was no urgency for quick runs, the need of the hour was stability.

Kohli was playing fluently at the other end though and after two runs from first six balls, Rohit joined him hammering a slog sweep over deep mid-wicket for a six. He, however, calmed down with Kohli looking ominous but soon the skipper departed and India were in a spot of bother at 91/5. Ashwin didn't last long as well and India were 110/6 at tea. Amidst all this, Rohit remained patient. You would have thought there was one maddening shot coming which would 'most probably' be placed straight into the hands of mid on. That moment could have come when he was on 22 from 49 balls and he mistimed his loft off Mitchell Santner, but it flew just over the diving Boult at mid off. It was just the one mistake he would commit in a rather flawless knock. He mixed caution with aggression really well, was ready to bide his time at the crease and capitalise on the loose balls.

Rohit pulled Boult's short one over deep square leg for six, hammered Neil Wagner's overpitched delivery over extra cover for four and followed up with a ferocious cut through gully off a short and wide ball from the same bowler. He gained more fluency from then on, there were sweeps and slog sweeps unfurled against Patel and that coupled with good rotation of strike with Wriddhiman Saha had rattled the Black Caps a bit. He was cautious against the pacers and aggressive against the spinners, seven of his 10 boundaries came against the spinners. He along with Saha had taken the lead past 300. India were into a comfortable zone before, in his own words, Rohit, again, 'got out at a wrong time', edging it to the keeper off Santner on 82.

As he trudged back to the pavilion dejected, he got a rousing reception from Indian dressing room led by the skipper which underlined the importance of his innings.

A gutsy knock in crunch situation has given India the upper hand. Rohit has played some important knocks in pressure situations in the last couple of years. He may not have scored a century in those but they have come in tricky situations. Last year, in Sri Lanka, he scored a gutsy fifty at the SSC coming in at 7/3 in India's second innings in swinging conditions which played a vital role in India's win. Against West Indies in Gros Islet this year, India were in need of acceleration in the second innings with the the third day washed out and it was Rohit who initiated the spark with a brisk 59-ball 41 in the last session of Day four. There was astonishment when Rohit was selected for the match ahead of Pujara and a fully fit Murali Vijay. But he had played his part in India's win.

It doesn't take an Einstien's brain to know that Kohli loves aggression and time and again, he has mentioned the fact that 'Rohit can change Test matches in a session once he gets going.' The team has been shuffled and batting orders have been changed to accommodate Rohit who is slowly beginning to vindicate captain's trust.

Rohit had read the Eden wicket well on Day three and showed great maturity throughout the innings - a rare sight.

"It's not a typical Kolkata wicket what it used to be. There's uneven bounce. At no point batsman could
relax or take it for granted. Every ball you played, you had to make sure that you gave 100 percent," Rohit said in post-match conference. There's something in the surface throughout the day, not just in the morning, afternoon or evening. You just could not relax," he added.

Boult was full of praise for Rohit in the post-match conference. "He applied himself very well and made some good decisions," Boult said. "He was tested there throughout. A lot of credit to him on a wicket that is going up and down and a little bit of reverse swing there at the end. He batted very well and I couldn't see a change in his game," the New Zealand pacer added.

Since 1 January 2015, Rohit has scored second-most number of runs – 341 and has the third best average by an Indian in third and fourth innings of Tests – 42.62, behind Rahane - (62) and Vijay (42.82). And he has scored these runs at a fairly brisk pace with a strike rate of 61.22.

"Everytime I get an opportunity, I try and enjoy myself, it's all about going out there and performing at crucial times," Rohit told Star Sports. "You have to understand the wicket and put the loose balls away. You can't just get going from the start, you have to be tight. Once I was in, it was important to rotate the strike. We (Me and Saha) rotated the strike well which helped us play our shots afterwards, Unfortunately I got out at the wrong time again," Rohit added.

Three years ago, after a tantalising wait, Rohit strode out to bat at the fall of Sachin Tendulkar's wicket with India struggling at 82/4 against the West Indies and hit a match-winning 177 on his debut, at the Eden Gardens, in Tendulkar's penultimate Test match.

Fast forward to 2016: On Day three of the second Test against New Zealand, Rohit once again showed that he has the temperament to play in crunch situations. However, he needs to improve his concentration and consistency.

He missed out on a century on Sunday, but this innings stands out as one of the best he has played till date. He stood up when it mattered and this might just strengthen his case of sealing a permanent spot in Kohli's XI.

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