1st Test, Chennai

Australia v India, 2012-13

ESPNcricinfo staff

At Chennai, February 22-26, 2013. India won by eight wickets. Toss: Australia. Test debuts: Bhuvneshwar Kumar; M. C. Henriques.


MS Dhoni launches one for six, India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 3rd day, February 24, 2013
MS Dhoni sustained a Twenty20-style innings for all but six hours © BCCI
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There was no mistaking the scenario on the third morning when long, tightly formed queues assembled outside the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. Tendulkar had gone to stumps the previous evening within sight of a hundred, and his devotees arrived anticipating a spot of idolatry. They got it - though not because of Tendulkar, who added only ten to his overnight 71. By the close, he had been all but forgotten, as far as that is possible in India: a double-century from Dhoni had eclipsed everything else.

Dhoni came to the crease with the match evenly poised, if not slightly in Australia's favour, and proceeded to savage their attack in a way few have managed. He sprinted to 200 from 231 deliveries, annihilated Lyon, one of eight men playing their first Test in India, and comprehensively broke Australian spirits. It was an innings that defined the series: the solid cricket Australia had played on the first two days vanished, never to return.

They had entered the game cautiously optimistic, following India's 2-1 defeat at home by England only two months earlier. Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar made his debut, while India surprisingly dropped slow left-armer Pragyan Ojha, their leading wicket-taker against England, preferring instead the off-breaks of Harbhajan Singh, who earned his 100th Test appearance against his favourite opponents. With Ashwin and Jadeja, Harbhajan formed part of a three-man spin attack which shared all 20 wickets - testimony to the bowlers' skill and the ineptitude of Australia's batsmen against the turning ball.

Australia opted for pace, which was their strength, leaving Lyon as the sole specialist spinner. Mike Hussey, who had retired after the home summer, was absent for the first time since making his debut in November 2005, and they were a bowler down because of Watson's decision to play solely as a batsman. His replacement as all-rounder was debutant Moises Henriques, the second Portuguese-born Test cricketer, after South Africa's Dick Westcott, who had died in January, aged 85. But with Wade at No. 6, the batting line-up looked as thin as any Australia had fielded since the mid-1980s.

Clarke chose to bat, and Dhoni set the tone for the series by introducing spin after only 22 minutes. Three overs into the second session, Ashwin had dismissed the top four: Warner, Hughes and Watson, more at home against fast bowling on bouncy surfaces, were too tentative, while Cowan - uncharacteristically - was too aggressive, stumped as he hustled injudiciously down the pitch. It was left to Clarke to master the environment. On a surface that looked like one of Roland Garros's clay courts, he ignored tennis wisdom and embarked instead on cricket's equivalent of serve-and-volley, light on his feet as he advanced to the spinners. He had luck, too, benefiting from India's opposition to the Decision Review System when he inside-edged a catch to short leg on 39, only for umpire Dharmasena to turn down Ashwin's appeal.

Clarke was assisted in a stand of 151 for the sixth wicket by the impressive Henriques, who was lbw sweeping for 68, part of a career best seven wicket haul for Ashwin. Clarke pushed on to 130 before he was caught at long-off on the second morning, and chastised himself as he walked off, certain a bigger hundred had been there for the taking. Still, Australia's 380 looked competitive - even more so when Pattinson breached 93mph and had India 12 for two, bowling both Vijay and Sehwag. But Clarke was too cautious with his young fast bowler, who was returning from a side injury, and India moved to 182 for three at stumps - by which time Pattinson, who also removed Pujara and was comfortably the pick of the attack, had bowled only six overs.

Pattinson and Siddle applied pressure during a fascinating first hour on day three, and Lyon reaped the reward when he bowled Tendulkar for 81 with a beauty that drifted away before turning back sharply to defeat the drive and leave India 196 for four.

The game was in the balance - and then came Dhoni, who muscled the Australians all round the ground. Kohli made a finely constructed 107, but his contribution of 53 to a stand of 128 with his captain reflected his role as second fiddle. For his part, Dhoni sustained a Twenty20-style innings for all but six hours.

Australia's fast bowlers had no answers, but it was Lyon, initially extracting some bite from the pitch, who suffered most: Dhoni hit him for 104 from 85 deliveries, used his wrists to force the ball into gaps, and finished with 224 from 265, the highest Test score by an Indian wicketkeeper - surpassing Budhi Kunderan's 192, made a couple of miles away at the Nehru Stadium against England in 1963-64. His stand of 140 for the ninth wicket with Kumar allowed India to reach 572; seven of their nine highest totals against Australia had now come since the turn of the millennium.

India's three spinners all posed different questions on an unpredictable surface: Hughes received a snorter from Jadeja which ripped to slip off his glove, while Clarke - who survived two near-adjacent lbw appeals, also from Jadeja - was eventually hit in front by one from Ashwin which barely got up. The only sustained resistance came from Henriques, who stretched the game into the last day and finished unbeaten on 81, the fifth Australian to score twin half-centuries on debut. Ashwin's five wickets gave him 12 in the match, and Tendulkar hurried India towards victory by hitting his first two balls, from Lyon, for six. But it was to Dhoni that the game belonged.

Man of the Match: M. S. Dhoni.

© John Wisden & Co.