IND vs NZ: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan in do-or-die situation despite Virat Kohli's backing
After the whole Gautam Gambhir selection furore, it can very well be said that Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are Indian Test skipper Virat Kohli's two most favourite batsmen.
Time and time again, Kohli has backed their talent and reiterated the importance of having them in Indian batting line-up. In fact, the skipper has called both Rohit and Shikhar as match-winners for India, who can single-handedly win matches. And hence the backing ahead of the New Zealand Test series.
There is no doubt about the pair's abilities, but their respective forms over the past one year don't back selectors' decision to retain them in the squad of 15 when players of proven qualities and talent are kept waiting in the queue.
What remains to be seen, is whether or not can they repay the selectors' faith with some big performances against the Kiwis.
This is what the Indian Test captain had to say about Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.
"Shikhar Dhawan is a very dominating player. He can dominate sessions and bring you into the Test match...You can't count out a guy like Shikhar because of couple of innings here and there. We need to give guys a decent run," Kohli had said about Dhawan during the recently concluded West Indies tour.
Virat Kohli also backed Rohit Sharma during the same tour.
"We understood Rohit needs to be backed at a particular position. Rohit is dangerous at No. 5 and take the game away in a session," he said.
Not just Virat, BCCI's chief selector Sandeep Patil also wanted a "fair" run for his fellow-Mumbaikar.
"Rohit is a fabulous player, immense talent he has got, but he hasn't got a longer run in Test cricket... What we have seen with Rohit Sharma is, he has been picked for one Test and then rested an entire season and again picked. So the selection committee, along with coach and captain, have decided that whoever is be picked will be given a fair amount of chances," Patil said after the selection meeting in Mumbai.
The highest individual score Rohit Sharma could manage in the recently concluded Caribbean tour was 41 in St. Lucia while Shikhar Dhawan scored 84 in the Antigua Test.
Rohit might have been deprived of enough opporunities but Shikhar could not even reach the 30-run mark in rest of the three innings that he played.
Both are established batsmen in Indian cricket but their records in the last year and a half hardly backs the weight of responsibilities on their shoulders.
Since 2015 until the West Indies tour, Rohit played a total of seven Tests in which he only scored three half-centuries with the highest being 79 against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
His performance dip can very well be evaluated as the last time 'Hitman' scored a ton was back in 2013 – when he scored an unbeaten 111 against West Indies on home soil in Mumbai. It is should also be noted that he is yet to prove himself as a specialist batsmen outside India in the test format.
Dhawan, on the other hand, has a better head-to-head record since 2015. He scored two centuries - 173 against Bangladesh and then a 134-run knock against Sri Lanka.
Since then, the left-handed opener hasn't been enjoying his best form – between 134 and the recent 84 against West Indies, he failed to even reach the 50-run mark despite playing a total of 8 innings.
Gautam Gambhir waiting in the wings
Gautam Gambhir-led India Red clinched the Duleep trophy with a crushing 355-run victory over Yuvraj Singh's India Red. The domestic tournament even saw a 'Bring back Gautam' banner highlighted, with fans attempting possibly a last-ditch effort to see the Delhi batsman in the Indian jersey yet again.
If the final match stats are to be considered, Gambhir continued his hot streak in the tournament with knocks of 94 and 36. Sharma scored 30 and 32* in two outings, while Dhawan could not reach the 30-run mark as he was dismissed for 29 in both innings.
With Gautam seems to be unwilling to give-up despite being snubbed by the BCCI selecting committee, he might fancy his chances of making arguably a one-last outing wearing the Indian jersey if Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan fail on selectors' expectations against New Zealand.
While Rohit is again expected to find a place in the middle-order, Shikhar is likely to be overlooked as India have two in-form batsmen in KL Rahul and Murali Vijay for the opening slot.
It hence seems like a do-or-die series for both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, as both might be shown the exit doors. Despite promising a 'longer run' for existing players, selectors might refrain from providing another chance to the talented duo
The three-match Test series begins on September 22 in Kanpur, with Kolkata and Indore holding the remaining two encounters. The competition will then shift to One-Day Internationals, where they will indulge in a five-match series.
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