Dhawan flattens Australia with fastest debut century
India 283 for 0 (Dhawan 185*, Vijay 83*) trail Australia 408 (Starc 99, Smith 92, Cowan 86, Warner 71, Ishant 3-72, Jadeja 3-77) by 125 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Shikhar Dhawan could possibly have been out before he had faced a ball in Test matches. The first delivery of the innings slipped out of Mitchell Starc's hand and landed on the stumps with the debutant out of his ground at the non-striker's end. There was no appeal, but if made it would have sent many running for the law book and coming back with varying interpretations of two laws: mankading and dead ball.
Dhawan, though, felt he was out, and took full advantage of what he felt was Australian generosity with a breathtaking century, its 85-ball duration the swiftest ever by a Test debutant. By the close he was still there on a commanding 185, looking utterly impassable while gathering runs with the kind of rare ease that invoked memories of Mark Waugh's debut against England at Adelaide Oval in 1991.*
Australia's tally of 408 had been swelled by Mitchell Starc's 99, but it was made to look laughably puny by how Dhawan set about his task in the company of the neat and tidy M Vijay. They formed a beautifully balanced union that did not take long to become plainly disdainful of the visiting bowlers, and by the close it was comfortably India's best opening stand against Australia.
On the way to what was also the highest total by an Indian debutant, Dhawan's stroke range was awe-inspiring, no fewer than 33 fours and two sixes streaming from his bat to all parts of the PCA ground. He was most savage through cover, piercing gaps no matter how many fielders Michael Clarke employed to patrol the region.
In doing so, Dhawan laid waste to a touring attack that should have been feeling quite haughty about prolonging Australia's innings on the third morning. The worst punishment was saved for Moises Henriques, Nathan Lyon and most of all Xavier Doherty, who in one over conceded an eye-popping 18, all to Dhawan's impudent blade.
Among the liberties taken in that over was a reverse sweep, conveying just how little Dhawan thought of the visiting spin bowlers. At the age of 27, Dhawan had been made to wait 81 first-class matches, 5679 runs and 16 centuries for this chance, coming in at the expense of Virender Sehwag. The flourish with which Dhawan took it was supreme, and indicated that India have not given up hope of forcing a victory over the remaining two days.
Vijay meanwhile constructed another innings entirely suitable to the occasion, settling in quietly and safely in Dhawan's slipstream but never becoming so tied down as to suggest the Australians had him covered. He too attacked the slow bowlers for a pair of sixes, and it was possible to imagine India have found an opening partnership to last for some time.
Clarke exhausted all of the bowling options except his own, though this is at least partly to spare his problematic back. At no point were his bowlers able to deliver spells consistent enough to create pressure, despite the fact that both Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc extracted reverse swing and there was enough bounce and spin for Lyon, Doherty and Steven Smith.
Most of all Australia missed James Pattinson, their most dangerous bowler in the first two Tests and an absentee here for punitive disciplinary reasons. Mitchell Johnson, another suspended bowler, has enjoyed success on this ground in the past, and it is difficult to imagine Clarke not wondering who else he might have called upon had team management not chosen to rule out four players for failing to follow the instructions of management.
Only once did Dhawan give the ghost of a chance, a thick edge on 94 flying through the hands of Phillip Hughes in the gully from Peter Siddle's bowling.
The Australians might have had some inkling of how swiftly the runs might flow when India batted after watching their own tail wag furiously. Starc assembled a brave 99, Smith managed 92, and in all 157 runs were added for the final three wickets.
For most of his innings Starc played nervelessly, hitting with power and pushing through gaps with finesse, while also defending when necessary. But he tightened up noticeably with one run to get for a hundred, beaten twice outside off stump by Ishant Sharma then edging an attempted drive behind after MS Dhoni brought the field in.
In that moment Australia were denied their first centurion at No. 9 since Ray Lindwall in 1946-47, and a rare chance to feel a rush of shared jubilation on this tour. So even during a session in which India were dominated, the hosts still managed to deny the tourists a feeling of achievement.
Smith's innings reached a similarly flat conclusion after he had also played with great assurance at No. 5, demonstrating a steadier approach and straighter bat than he had shown in his earlier Test match appearances in 2010 and 2011. It was a chanceless innings, and took a practically perfect ball from Pragyan Ojha to dislodge him.
*07.00pm GMT, March 16: The copy has been updated after reviewing the laws of the game.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here