India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 3rd day February 24, 2013

Dhoni plays his defining innings

MS Dhoni played his best Test innings - his maiden double-century - to give India a significant advantage against Australia

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.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ganesh on February 26, 2013, 7:35 GMT

    More than answering anybody, I think he answered you Sharda that he does care for Tests. To be very honest, I agreed with you when you wrote that he doesn't seem to care for Test cricket.

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 16:47 GMT

    I am not qualified to criticize any cricketer. But I only see how effective is the batsman hits fours and sixes to entertain the crowds. Kapil Dev was known for electrifying the whole atmosphere whenever he used to appear on the field either as a bowler or a batsman. Doni has filled the gap. Critics who judge him from the theoretical point of view have to change their views as Dhoni has shown as to how to play the shots. he has invented new types of shots. they have to accept his technique and change the theory. hats off to Dhoni for inventing shots alike hialicopater shot and many more such shots.


  • Harmon on February 25, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    @nyc_missile: That would depend on just how do India lose and just how many more MSD scores (or more imp, in what way he gets out). I would have dropped MSD or asked him to take a break after Aus tour but now that he is doing "Very Well" it would be stupid to drop him or take captaincy away from him if things don't go well. Another side of your question could be that would MSD find a place in team IF he ceases to be the captain? On current form def yes. We don't have another keeper batsman like him and dare I say no one in the world. Prior would come closest but only in away conditions. ABD is a batsman-keeper and is no where as good as MSD a keeper though a classier batsman by several degrees.

    Would MSD be a captain IF India lose? If tomorrow India need 95 runs and are a.o. for 75 then it won't be MSD's fault so why should he bear the brunt? If Viru keeps on playing his "Natural Game" for 10 balls per innings then why should MSD pay? Punish him when he is wrong, not otherwise.

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 10:58 GMT

    If there is one guy in world cricket other than fast bowlers that needs game management it is Dhoni. He looked knackered against England, it can't be easy keeping, captaining and trying to prop up a failing batting line-up.

    He looks totally revitalised with the break between the two series, and that should speak volumes to the BCCI about managing his workload.

    Feel sorry for Michael Clarke, he is the outstanding captain of world cricket, but doesn't have the weapons. Even when he masterminds a chance of Kumar with straight bowling and a leg-side field that would have perhaps curtailed the lead, his players don't' back him up and Cowan drops.

  • Harmon on February 25, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    @citizenkc: That's what is wrong with fans like you. The ones who are always looking for something that lies away literally and figuratively. Now you are talking of a "True Test" that India will play in SA. Ind already played there in 2010 and did pretty well, didn't we? But for you that does not matter. If India were to do well again in SA then you would say let's see how MSD does in Eng and then you will say let's see how he & Ind do in Aus and so on. Yes Ind have done poorly away in the last 2 years but that does not mean that what Ind does in HOME is not TRUE or REAL. It is as real as anything else. If Starc was hailed as a fearsome bowler in Aus vs WI/SL then he looks to be a pussy bowling here. But the Aussies don't think that way. They know what it means to support one's team. Eng do the same. They will give shameless excuses but will not think the way you are thinking. Why some of us Indians suffer from a weird sense of self where anything we own or are good at must be poor?

  • k on February 25, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    The way ppl r using the 'rebuilding' tag for Oz has bcom a cliche by now...i guess we will build a bridge to Moon n till thn also Aussies ll keep 'rebuilding' thr team..:P

  • karthik on February 25, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    Not to play a spoil-sport by any means..but I have a hypothetical question..what if Dhoni scores a few more in the series and we lose it 2-1 or 3-1 ? He will still be the captain of the tests for SA ? Dhoni fans-answer it as objectively and unbiasedly as possible.

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    In India we are fascinated by word talent in terms of dazzling strokeplay..Instead it should be more used to application of mind on the job, ugly but effecient, physical fitness etc. MSD displayed all that and played a great innings not only in the context of match, series but also how the future unfolds for Indian Cricket. Kudos

  • ramachandra on February 25, 2013, 5:54 GMT

    Great innings from the captain. Probably secured his place for next 10 years!

  • Mayank on February 25, 2013, 3:32 GMT

    No doubt Dhoni has a limitation against swinging ball in alien conditions but no one can question his cricketing acumen. He reads the game better than most. Talent wise he is ordinary but mentally he reads the game very well. He hardly shows emotions or display nerves. It will unfair to expect Dhoni to play this sort of innings on a regular basis but we need to give credit to the guy. Many more talented players have shown lack of application whether it be Yuvraj, Raina or Sharma but come what may Dhoni has always put a price to his wicket.This innings might prove to be a Game changer in this match. Lets hope for an Indian win.