If India are sniffing victory in the first Test against Australia at Chepauk, it has a lot to do with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s counter-attacking double hundred on Sunday.
Dhoni and Virat Kohli pushed India close to Australia’s first innings total of 380 with a 128-run stand for the fifth wicket. But Kohli’s dismissal saw India losing Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh, all handy lower order batsmen, with the team’s total at 406.
At that point, the home side’s lead was just 26 runs with only two wickets in hand, and Australia were very much within the game. But in the company of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dhoni added a further 109 runs for the unbeaten ninth-wicket alliance to take India to 515 for eight—a lead of 135—and once the day’s play ended, Australia were down for the count. In the process, he scored 109 runs in the extended final session.
It was simply sensational the way Dhoni destroyed the Australian bowling attack, including James Pattinson, who was their best bowler in the park, Mitchell Starc, who was touted as the biggest threat for his ability to generate reverse swing at high pace, and Nathan Lyon, who was expected to be the custodian of the spin department.
Dhoni milked Pattinson for 35 runs from 53 balls, Starc conceded 24 off 28, while Lyon was taken to the cleaners – 91 runs robbed from 73 balls. Simply outstanding.
Dhoni’s knock also assumed importance because it came at a critical time. Since the tour of England in mid 2011, the Indian cricket team has been struggling to find a spark. It needed someone to show the way ahead, lift it from the depths. There’s no Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman to handle the crunch situation, and Sachin Tendulkar has been struggling for big runs of late despite some bright flickers.
Yes, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli have held out promise at various junctures in the past one year with fine knocks, but still it required the solidity that only the presence and performance of an old hand can offer.
When in flow, few batsmen can match Dhoni for audacity and effectiveness as he showed on the day. The knock also came as a reassurance that Dhoni will be at the forefront of India’s march to a new age.