By Amlan Chakraborty
KANPUR, (Reuters) - The ball was old, the stage set and expectations high but India's Rohit Sharma again spurned the opportunity to assert his long-form credentials in the first test against New Zealand on Thursday.
Often hailed as the next big thing to come out of Mumbai since Sachin Tendulkar, the 29-year-old is an automatic choice in the limited-overs side and the only batsman to score two one-day international double centuries.
In the shorter version of cricket no ground is long or wide enough and no bowler good enough when Sharma is on song. But the moment he dons the white jersey, the bat in his hand seems to shrink, as does his average.
Sharma, whose 264 against Sri Lanka in 2014 remains the highest ODI score, averages 42.08 in one-dayers but went into the opening day of the match against New Zealand with a test average of 32.62.
Since registering two centuries in his first two tests, against West Indies in 2013, Sharma has not managed another hundred in 16 since.
He made another promising start in his 19th on Friday, scoring 35 before he tried to hit off-spinner Mitchell Santner over the top and was caught at mid-on.
The dismissal reopened the debate on social media about his test pedigree but team mate Murali Vijay stood by him.
"That's his area I guess," said opener Vijay after India finished on 291 for nine.
"When it comes out well it always looks good. When it doesn't, obviously you fall on the wrong side.
"I think we've still got to back our instincts and play. Whatever has got you here, you've got to back your habits."
Sharma walked out to bat just before tea with India on 185 for four. The ball was already 58 overs old and the opposition drained after toiling under a harsh sun.
He cracked three fours and one six before departing after a knock that was a microcosm of his test career.
Even among his fans, patience is wearing thin, certainly in the unforgiving world of social media.
Sharma's talent has never been in question but doubt remains over his temperament. He has another chance to make amends in the second innings of India's 500th test.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)