Shikhar Dhawan scintillates on debut

The opener collars the Aussie attack for a record score at Mohali.

Scorecard | First day | Second day | Fletcher stays | Stats: Test-debut tons

A dream debut for the dashing Dhawan.MOHALI: Thank Michael Clarke if you’re Indian. Fall at his feet if you’re Shikhar Dhawan. On Saturday, the Aussie captain allowed the Delhi opener to have a belligerent, record-breaking maiden Test by choosing not to appeal when Mitchell Starc had inadvertently ‘Mankaded’ him on the first ball of the innings.

Dhawan went on to smash an unbeaten 185 in just 168 balls, the fastest hundred ever on debut and the highest score by an Indian debutant, and was 15 away at close from scoring the country's first double-hundred in a maiden Test. The blitz kept alive India's hopes of enforcing a result in the rain-curtailed third Test.

The hosts, having endured an irritatingly prolonged wag of the Australian tail in the first session, took themselves to within 125 runs runs of their rivals by stumps. Not since Virender Sehwag (the man Dhawan displaced) in his pomp had India gathered Test runs at such a pace: 283 for no loss in 58 overs, in reply to Australia's 408. This was also India's third-highest opening partnership in Tests.

Power play

The impetus came mostly from Dhawan’s bat and he pierced a packed offside with spectacular stroke-play. Almost 80 percent of his runs came in boundaries (a scarcely believable 33 fours garnished with two sixes) mostly placed to perfection through a well-populated off-side field, but some also cheekily attained via the premeditated paddle against the spinners.

Dhawan reached fifty in as many balls, and just 35 more deliveries were needed to nudge aside Suresh Raina as India’s latest centurion on debut. His 150 came off 131 deliveries. The frenetic, unconquered opening partnership of 283 is the highest, by a long way, by an Indian opening pair against Australia. Murali Vijay (83*), who ensured a steady distribution of strike while his partner was going ballistic, deserves no little credit for that.

Two of Australia's own had earlier come tantalizingly close to three figures. Steve Smith stretched his overnight half-century to 92 before Pragyan Ojha got him with a beauty, ending a 97-run partnership that tormented India for one whole session.  The other relinquished maiden hundred was even harder on the heart.

Tail wags

Mitchell Starc batted like a man possessed for 99, presenting the full face of the bat, alternating conscientious blocking with intensive hitting that gained him 14 boundaries. He hit Ishant Sharma back over his head and cut and flicked R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Starc survived a streaky phase during which he edged a few and eventually the nerve of getting to a maiden hundred got to him one run away from the landmark.

Suddenly, Starc was all pins and needles against Ishant Sharma, who teased him outside off before snaring him with an outside edge for his highest first class score. This made Starc the fourth Aussie bat to miss out on a ton in this innings. The tail, however, had done enough by then to extend the score from an overnight 273/7 to 408 all out. With the entire first day lost to rain, it appeared that the visitors had done enough to ward off defeat in the third Test. Dhawan took two sessions to rubbish that notion.