In October 1978 on this very ground Indian cricket began a new chapter as a certain Kapil Dev Nikhanj played the first of his 131 Tests. Apart from spearheading the bowling attack for over a decade, Kapil captured the imagination with his spontaneity and brought to the crease a certain audacity, the likes of which hadn't been seen before. So when Kapil calls someone his hero, you know that that someone needs to be taken seriously.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who orchestrated a quite astonishing 148 under pressure, received that accolade and he admitted that it was the "best message" he had got till now. Kapil would have probably identified with his swagger and daring. Several Indian batting masters would have probably brought off those juddering pull shots off bowlers in the Shoaib Akhtar class, but few might have achieved it with such ferocity. The pressure was immense, the opponent brutal.
Dhoni talked about the most engrossing passage of the series: "He was bowling very fast. It was actually the fastest deliveries I have played till now, both in the one-dayers and Tests. It was quite fiery. I believe he was bowling consistently over 148kph. It was really fast. It was a challenge for me and I accepted it. I just wanted to hang in there for a while and get used to the pace and bounce of the wicket but soon decided to take a calculated risk. I had to play my strokes at some point of time and I decided it was the right time to go for it."
It was no doubt his toughest test to date, one where he was up against electrifying pace against a team on the rise. He looked out of place in the first few deliveries and even got hit when he missed a short snorter. "It's my best innings in Test cricket," he added. "It was a good batting track but I don't think it was very easy to score with Shoaib bowling at his best with the new ball. It was quite tough for me and I got hit."
Dhoni nearly got hit again this morning when Shoaib let rip a chest-high beamer, but was fortunate that it was not spot on, running away for four runs. "I would like to believe that the ball just slipped out of his hand," he said, yet confirming that Shoaib hadn't apologised for his action. "A beamer always surprises you, so I was a bit surprised. I don't think anybody bowls a beamer intentionally."
Dhoni also acknowledged Irfan Pathan's contribution and spoke about what he liked about their partnership. "Both of us have one thing in common," he said, "we always look for runs. I was getting runs quite fast and he was playing the sheet-anchor's role. That was the perfect thing in our partnership."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo