CHENNAI: A stunning double hundred by skipper MS Dhoni overshadowed everything else on the third day of the first Test match against Australia and enabled the home team to gain a 135-run lead at the MAC Stadium here. Dhoni bludgeoned an unbeaten 206 off just 243 balls, leading from the front in two game-changing phases of play.
He added 128 with Virat Kohli (107) against the second new ball in the post-lunch session to get things moving, and drove home the advantage late in the day by compiling 109 with tail-ender Bhuvneshwar Kumar - in a ninth wicket alliance the Aussies struggled to break.
The latter stand was special as Dhoni dominated the partnership 85 runs to Bhuvneshwar’s 16. Australia searched desperately, and in vain, to disrupt proceedings. But India sat on 515 for eight at close, a sizable lead already in hand and two more days to go on a wearing pitch.
After a near fullhouse had endured the disappointment of Sachin Tendulkar (unbeaten on 71 overnight) missing out on a century in what is possibly his last Test at Chepauk, Dhoni aimed to please in the only way he knows. The skipper blasted 22 fours and five sixes on Sunday, crossed 4000 Test runs, assumed possession of the highest score by an Indian captain and also by an Indian wicket-keeper.
The knock was in stark contrast to his painstaking 99 in the India’s last Test against England at Nagpur in December. The centurion on that occasion, however, added another ton to his name. Kohli resumed on 50 and assisted Dhoni for over a session, before giving up his wicket soon after completing a fourth Test hundred, his second versus Australia.
Dhoni did not slow down even when he was running out of partners. He made every wicket count. After Kohli’s dismissal, 41 were added with a scratchy Ravindra Jadeja (16), 34 with Harbhajan Singh (11), and an infuriating – for the Aussies – 109* with Bhuvneshwar . This was bullying its menacing best, the sort that has ruled out defeat for India in this opening match and pried open up the possibility of outright victory.
Anticipation for Tendulkar’s apparently impending century overshadowed all else in the morning. The maestro was watchful, wary – as was his partner Kohli – and fended off five probing overs by James Pattinson before he was done in by off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
A trademark dismissal, Lyon turned the ball sharply in from the rough and bowled Tendulkar through the gate for 81, ending the overnight partnership on 91. India still trailed by 184 and with the new ball a few overs away, Michael Clarke would have looked hopefully at the looming second session.
Just 21 had been gained in the first hour and scoring was at an all-time low when Dhoni shrugged off the shackles with a streak of boundaries, sweeping and hefting Lyon on the legside. Kohli kept up with the skip, welcoming all-rounder Moises Henriques with a cut that stood out for its terrifying bat-speed, and an optimistic slash over slips for another four.
New ball butchered
Australia took the second new ball three overs after lunch, but Clarke would have had no inkling of what awaited. Pattinson’s first over with the shiny red orb set the pattern. Dhoni punched him off the backfoot all the way through cover. Kohli followed suit with two of his own against Mitchell Starc to move into the 90s and then creamed a Pattinson full toss through mid-wicket, as a fourth Test century hundred came within striking distance of one hit.
Kohli, who had resumed on 50 over night, reached his second hundred versus Australia with an exquisite flick against Pattinson. Dhoni meanwhile refused to relent. He walked down and around the pitch to smack three fours in a Starc over to bring up the hundred partnership. India’s captain then welcomed Henriques back into the attack with a six swatted over extra cover and another four smeared to mid on.
The massacre was arrested by a change of pace. Lyon came on and lulled Kohli into playing a loose shot that was held by a vertically outstretched Starc at mid on. Ravindra Jadeja looked on admiringly at the carnage at the other end but was himself beaten and struck on the pads by both Pattinson and Starc. Jadeja was put out of his misery minutes before the tea break when he was bowled trying to leave a Pattinson short-of-length delivery that took out off stump.
R. Ashwin lost out to counterpart Lyon, the ball taking the inside edge and pad, before trickling on to the wicket. Dhoni continued undeterred. He advanced down the track against Siddle for his 13th boundary to reach his hundred in 119 balls, and then dispatched Lyon over long on to cross 4,000 Test runs as India surged into the lead over Australia.
Harbhajan slog-swept a six off Lyon before losing his off-stump to Henriques – his maiden Test scalp – trying to hit him out of the park. Dhoni went into overdrive again when a patient Bhuvneshwar joined him. India’s advantage crossed 50 and then 100 as sixes flew off Dhoni’s blade, taking him quickly towards a first double century. The landmark was netted with a single off Lyon, fittingly against the bowler who Dhoni has already massacred for 91 runs in 74 balls, and four of his five sixes.