Kohli chips in with a ton of his own; wearing surface offers advantage to India

Bat-speed combined with strong wrists as the sphere was sent rocketing to distant corners. This was ‘power play’ by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Yet, Dhoni’s sensational unbeaten 243-ball 206 at Chepauk before a wildly cheering Sunday crowd was not all power. It was also about heart and fight. And a captain’s ability to respond to pressures that come with the territory.

The ground was Dhoni’s canvas and he brush-stroked it with shots of vibrant colours. The Aussies chased leather or, helplessly, followed the flight of the ball into the stands. What an innings!

Dhoni’s dazzling double century — his first in international cricket — and a well-constructed 107 by the impressive Virat Kohli took India, leading Australia by 135 in the first innings, to 515 for eight on the third day of the first Airtel Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.

On a wearing surface offering increasing assistance to the spinners, India holds the aces.

Several records

For the Australians, the rampant Dhoni was a force of nature. To the Indians, he was a responsible skipper, building partnerships and rallying with the tail.

Captain Courageous swept past several records during his blitzkrieg. This is the highest score by an Indian captain against Australia in Tests. And Dhoni became the first wicket-keeper batsman from India to cross 4000 runs.

Dhoni’s counter-attack stunned the Aussies. Yet, this was no thoughtless hitting. The onslaught was calculated.

He walked in after Nathan Lyon had dismissed maestro Sachin Tendulkar (81) with an off-spinner that turned sharply from the edge of the rough just beyond the good length area.

The Australian close-in cordon was in and the host was under stress. It was here that Dhoni disrupted Lyon’s length by getting forward and clouting the spinner on the leg-side without allowing the ball to spin or jump.

The sense of adventure in Dhoni’s batting is unmistakable. And it was in full view during his 109-run association in just 25.4 overs with a dogged Bhuvneshwar Kumar that might have taken the game away from Australia.

Bhuvneshwar’s contribution was a mere 16 as Dhoni launched into the tiring Australian attack. Incredibly, in the final session (extended by half an hour), Dhoni smashed an astonishing 109 runs.

No mercy

Hurricane Dhoni showed no mercy. James Pattinson was bludgeoned over long-off and the ball landed inches in front of the ropes. Dhoni was severe on the slightest of width and the pacemen were flashed between cover and point.

Even if the ball reversed, Dhoni was seeing and picking the sphere so well that he essayed the whip between square-leg and mid-wicket.

Some of his straighter hits were breathtaking. Peter Siddle looked into the heavens as Dhoni smashed the ball past him. The delivery was quick but the ball sped faster to the ropes.

Support seamer Moises Henriques was taken to the cleaners. Dhoni sashayed down the pitch and slapped left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc to the point fence. This was aggressive, inventive batsmanship that forced the bowlers to alter their line.

And Dhoni waltzed down to Lyon to dismiss the bowler ruthlessly into the stands beyond mid-wicket. As Lyon lost his confidence, the lack of depth in the Australian spin stood exposed.

Valuable ally

Earlier in the day, the 31-year-old Dhoni found a valuable ally in Kohli. The right-handed Kohli’s batsmanship combined the urgency of present-day methods with solid, old fashioned blocking. The young man oozed character in the middle.

Kohli’s fourth Test hundred was overshadowed by the explosive Dhoni but his was an important contribution that lent stability to the innings.

The Delhi batsman’s back-to-back Test centuries — Kohli notched up a hundred against England at Nagpur — confirmed his stature as a feisty batsman. In the Nagpur Test too, Kohli and Dhoni figured in a crucial association although the Indian captain missed out on a hundred by a run on that occasion.

At Chepauk, Kohli and Dhoni were involved in a vital 128-run partnership. Kohli’s back-swing was easy and he got solidly behind the line of the deliveries when Pattinson and Siddle bowled testing spells in the morning.

Kohli, subsequently, drove and flicked with panache but failed to press on after his hundred; he was picked up at widish mid-on off Lyon.

Ravindra Jadeja shouldered arms to a Pattinson delivery from round the wicket to see his stumps in a mess and India gradually seemed to lose the plot.

Then, Dhoni boomed with Bhuvneshwar. The crowd, disappointed at Tendulkar missing out on a hundred, was up on its feet as Dhoni celebrated his 200th run.

This was an explosive innings.

Scoreboard

Australia — 1st innings: 380.

India — 1st innings: M. Vijay b Pattinson 10 (15b, 2x4), V. Sehwag b Pattinson 2 (11b), C. Pujara b Pattinson 44 (74b, 6x4), S. Tendulkar b Lyon 81 (159b, 7x4), V. Kohli c Starc b Lyon 107 (206b, 15x4, 1x6), M.S. Dhoni (batting) 206 (243b, 22x4, 5x6), R. Jadeja b Pattinson 16 (45b, 3x4), R. Ashwin b Lyon 3 (6b), H. Singh b Henriques 11 (31b, 1x6), Bhuvneshwar (batting) 16 (56b, 2x4), Extras (b-2, lb-14, w-3) 19, Total (for eight wkts. in 141 overs) 515.

Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Vijay), 2-12 (Sehwag), 3-105 (Pujara), 4-196 (Tendulkar), 5-324 (Kohli), 6-365 (Jadeja), 7-372 (Ashwin), 8-406 (Harbhajan).

Australia bowling: Starc 25-3-75-0, Pattinson 26-5-89-4, Siddle 22-5-61-0, Lyon 40-1-182-3, Henriques 17-4-48-1, Clarke 8-2-25-0, Warner 3-0-19-0.