CHENNAI: An exceptional maiden Test double-century from M.S. Dhoni emphatically took India from an uncomfortable period and into the lead over Australia on day three at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium yesterday. Dhoni walked in at the fall of Sachin Tendulkar for 81 after India had scored just 14 runs in the 11 overs and proceeded to dominate a stand of 128 with Virat Kohli (107) before marshaling the lower order to a total of 515 for 8. At stumps, India led Australia by 135 with Dhoni on 206 — the highest score by any wicketkeeper-captain and the best by an Indian ‘keeper.
Dhoni’s arrival injected the desire impetus into a flagging innings; he began with a burst of singles and doubles and was clearly out to upset Nathan Lyon’s rhythm, shuffling and coming down the track. The effect was almost immediate, as Lyon dropped short and allowed Kohli room to rock back and pull a six over midwicket. It was India’s first boundary in 14 overs.
Dhoni hit Lyon out of the attack with two fours in one over, and Moises Henriques was welcomed with two fours by Kohli as the 50 partnership came up in 43 deliveries. Another four to Kohli raised India’s 250, and when Lyon returned just before lunch he was hit for two more boundaries by Dhoni. Dhoni’s tempo-changing attack allowed Kohli to focus on building his innings, and he continued with calmness and focus that augurs well for his Test career. Kohli worked hard to cut out the risky shots and only played in anger when the deliveries were really loose, making sure that full tosses were put away past cover and midwicket.
Dhoni’s assault on the new ball was exhilarating, as India took 54 in the first even seven overs. His 50 came up in 59 balls during an over in which he carved Mitchell Starc for three off-side boundaries, and then Henriques was smacked for six over extra cover and four past mid-on in his first over.
In the midst of this carnage, Kohli put a full delivery off the toes away for four to reach his fourth Test century — and second against Australia — but failed to press on. Perhaps caught up in the moment or looking to emulate Dhoni’s bullishness, Kohli chipped the second ball of a new Lyon spell to mid-on.
Dhoni got a life on 89 when he misjudged a call for a single and was let off by Phillip Hughes who failed to collect the ball cleanly, and then looked on as Ravindra Jadeja struggled in his second Test innings. Jadeja never looked convincing during his 45-ball stay, and after a series of lbw appeals and inside edges he chose the wrong delivery to leave and was bowled by James Pattinson for 16.
Dhoni spent 29 deliveries in the nineties before reaching his sixth Test century with a flick over square leg. Soon after he celebrated with a six that took him past 4000 Test runs. He added 34 with Harbhajan Singh (11) — who became the seventh batsman bowled when he swiped at Henriques — and a record century stand with the debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Dropped on 0 by Ed Cowan at short midwicket, Bhuvneshwar buckled down to score 16 off 55 balls while Dhoni went about piercing the field and lofting sixes.
When he chipped Pattinson for four off the first ball of a new spell late in the day, Dhoni surpassed his previous best of 148 scored in 2006. As the shadows lengthened, Dhoni trained his sights on Lyon again, hitting him for two sixes in an over. His maiden double-century needed 231 deliveries and was celebrated with a mild raise of the bat by Dhoni. It was an exceptional innings.
Earlier, runs had come at a trickle in the first hour as Tendulkar and Kohli seemed a touch hesitant outside off stump. The pair even played out a sequence of four maidens at one stretch; Tendulkar had a few nervy moments outside off stump, including a mistimed uppercut that landed in no man’s land. The introduction of Lyon produced the breakthrough, as a tossed-up delivery spun in sharply from the rough and clipped the inner half of the bat as Tendulkar mistimed a booming drive. The fans that had cued up from early in the morning were left disappointed at Tendulkar’s dismissal for 81, but were soon given reason to flex their vocal cords when another adopted hero, Dhoni, injected momentum into India’s innings with a brilliant innings.