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MS Dhoni played his best Test innings - his maiden double-century - to give India a significant advantage against Australia
February 24, 2013
Australia will recognise the name instantly because it belongs to one of their most famous movies. Sri Lanka's Aravinda de Silva owned it during his career, but it it only fair it is now handed over. To MS Dhoni who, from today, must be nicknamed "Mad Max."
It has way more street cred than the schmaltzy "Captain Cool" that he is called by the commentariat and is a perfect reflection of the Test innings that will define him: a full tilt, counter-attacking, noise generating double-hundred against Australia in Chennai. It was a calculated, resolute and complete destruction of an opposition's bowling attack, its plans and maybe even its future course of action in this series.
At the end of day three, Dhoni was batting on 206 off 243 balls, his first three-figure knock in Tests since the 144 against West Indies at Eden Gardens in November 2011. India are 515 for 8, 135 ahead on a pitch that is beginning to disintegrate.
In the hour after his arrival, Dhoni shredded Australia's plans of applying pressure through containment, swallowed up their chances of a first-innings lead and exposed their limited bowling resources in this Test. During an innings that spanned more than five hours in the sapping heat of Chennai, cheered on by a multitude of fans who consider him their own, Dhoni turned a potential deficit into a commanding lead.
Several contributions went into making India's tall total - Tendulkar's 81, Virat Kohli's 107 - but Dhoni's innings became the assertion of Indian dominance over the Australian bowlers. The day had begun with a slow opening hour in which only 21 runs were scored because of run-saving fields. After Tendulkar fell, the match suddenly went into turbo gear.
Offspinner Nathan Lyon had begun to get bite off the pitch, the footmarks had created dust-raising roughs and the scoring had been stifled. Within a few balls, Dhoni changed that. Suddenly Michael Clarke had to shuffle his fielders around. It was less cat-and-mouse and more of a smash-and-grab on Australia's plans.
When Dhoni muscled a four down the ground off the seventh ball he faced from Lyon, a short mid-on turned up, leaving deep square leg vacant. The next ball was paddle swept for two to exactly where the deep square could have cut it off. One ball later, Dhoni gathered Lyon from outside off stump and swept him through vacant midwicket. By lunch, with Dhoni at the crease, India scored 67 off 95 balls. Yet it was the gobsmacking post-lunch assault of the new ball, against James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc, which emphasised both Dhoni's comfort in his surroundings and his confidence against the bowlers.
The new ball is conventionally considered a testing period for batsmen. At Chepauk today, the hard new ball was given a hard new message: that India, led by Dhoni, were going to come after it. They were helped by the full tosses offered by bowlers struggling to bowl yorkers. Dhoni sent the lethal Pattinson's second ball flying past point for four. Starc went for three fours in an over, and when Henriques replaced him, Dhoni stepped out and clouted a six over extra cover.
In the first seven overs of the new ball, India scored 54 runs; Kohli fell just after completing his century, greedily trying to loft Lyon over mid-on, his mis-hit snatched out of the air by Starc.
Australia were ahead by 56, but Dhoni wasn't going anywhere. He reached his hundred just after tea, stepping out to Peter Siddle as though he was a 120kph bowler and corkscrewing him over square leg for four. Inside the first hour of the final session, Dhoni lost three reasonably equipped lower-order batsmen in Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh and India were 406 for 8. The lead was slender, the tail was not exactly wagging and there was only one way to go.
Every bowler who came at Dhoni in a new spell was spanked to the boundary; as Australia's bowlers and fielders began to fade, if there was a gap to be exploited, it was. In an expertly handled, unbeaten 109-run partnership with No. 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the tailender's contribution was 16. Dhoni's century had come off 119 balls, the race from 100 to 200 took 112.
Dhoni's double-century made him the leading run-scorer among Indian captains across formats, ahead of the biggest of names - Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly, Tiger Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar. In his last two Test innings, he has produced scores of 99 and 206 and been involved in key partnerships with Kohli.
In Chennai, Dhoni and Kohli put up 128 for the fifth wicket in just over 26 overs; it couldn't have been more different from their 198-run partnership in Nagpur against England. That came after a top-order collapse and was an attempt to extract a scrap of pride from a series that had turned into an unending horror film.
This partnership is a promise of better days. Dhoni's last two significant Test innings have come at No.6 in order to fit in an extra bowler - Jadeja. He played these innings during the shakiest period of his captaincy.
His team was blanked in four-Test series in England and Australia, and suffered a rare home series defeat to England. Dhoni stayed captain because all alternative candidates had either faded away or were too young. Before the series against Australia began, his Test captaincy was on the line. Desperation and survival does, after all, focus the mind.
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