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  • India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 3rd day

Dhoni smashes double century for India

The Report by Daniel Brettig
February 24, 2013 « Robben: Arsenal face fight to keep Wilshere | Chartbeat test »
India 515 for 8 (Dhoni 206*, Kohli 107, Tendulkar 81, Pattinson 4-89) lead Australia 380 by 135 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

File photo: It was a startling display of power and poise from MS Dhoni © AFP
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Spectators entered the M Chidambaram Stadium earnestly hoping to see a Sachin Tendulkar century. They were to leave it chanting the name of the unbeaten double-centurion MS Dhoni, after watching one of the most brutal and influential innings the ground has witnessed.

Crashing and caressing his highest score, Dhoni tilted the first Test firmly India's way after three days in Chennai. In a startling display of power and poise that amounted to a six-hour celebration of Dhoni's inimitable technique, Australia's bowlers, fielders and captain Michael Clarke were humbled. India lead by 135, but the psychological effect of such an innings is bound to be weightier than that, much as Tendulkar flattened Mark Taylor's team on this ground in 1998.

So supremely did Dhoni play, barely offering a chance, that he overshadowed a perfectly constructed century by Virat Kohli, who proved an ideal partner for his captain. Australia's worst fears of subcontinental conditions - an unresponsive pitch, neutered fast bowlers and uncontrollable Indian batsmen - were realised as Kohli and Dhoni tore the attack to shreds in the first 45 minutes after lunch.

It was a passage that sapped Australia, its after-effects notable in the final session when a contest once finely balanced now looked almost as lopsided as that between Dhoni's top and bottom hands for control of the bat. The debutant and No. 9 Bhuneshwar Kumar played the pesky tail-end role with aplomb, and by the close had taken part in a record, unbroken ninth-wicket stand for India against Australia. In all, 144 runs were ransacked from the final session.

Pattinson was clearly his side's best and most threatening bowler, but Nathan Lyon's three wickets came at far too great a cost, and the rest were unable to make anything more than the most fleeting passing impact. Added to the tourists' concerns was the sight of Clarke stretching his back after a bowling spell; the draining day was elongated by a tardy over rate.

There had been immediate evidence of Australian adjustments in the field when play resumed. Pattinson and Siddle bowled without a slip but a tight ring field, denying the batsmen boundaries and homing in on the stumps with the odd short ball thrown in.

After taking an over or so to settle, Pattinson and Siddle charged in for a sustained period of high-quality bowling on a pitch that gave them nothing, only a hint of reverse swing aiding their cause. So tight was their work that four consecutive maidens ticked by at one point, Pattinson holding his head in his hands when he let the sequence lapse with a Tendulkar single behind square leg.

This outstanding partnership was to be exhausted without reward, but Lyon soon became its chief beneficiary. In his first over replacing Siddle, Lyon had Kohli blinking as two deliveries landing in the rough behaved with bipolar variation - the first a grubber outside off stump, the second a jumper that narrowly evaded short leg. Next over Tendulkar stretched to drive a nicely looped offbreak that drifted, dipped to land in a footmark, and spun back to take an inside edge then clip leg stump. Lyon's joy was unrestrained, but Pattinson and Siddle deserved plenty of credit.

Dhoni arrived with India becalmed. He responded with hard hands and aggressive shots, while Kohli heeded his captain's example and pulled a Lyon long hop into the crowd beyond midwicket to help them regain their voice. Boundaries began to leak again where previously none could be found, and the 50 stand was raised at better than four an over.

Lunch came and went, and the arrival of the second new ball was the signal for Dhoni to launch the most brazen of batting assaults. Taking advantage of a harder projectile more waywardly delivered by Australia's bowlers, Dhoni's blade flashed in the afternoon sun as boundaries piled up. Kohli reached his century in the middle of this period when Pattinson drifted onto his pads.

Moises Henriques' return to the attack had Dhoni smearing him contemptuously into the stands at wide long-off, and seven overs with the new ball had given up no fewer than 54 runs when Lyon returned. At once Kohli's ambition outstripped his prudence, and Starc claimed a fine overhead catch at mid-on. Ravindra Jadeja made a careful start, and faced a trio of lbw appeals as Pattinson and Starc extracted the sharpest reverse swing of the match so far.

Pattinson's composure appeared to be slipping with each unsuccessful shout, but minutes before tea, his move around the wicket had Jadeja bowled shouldering arms. Dhoni remained, however, conserving his wicket in the lead-up to the interval then advancing again as the evening session commenced.

Others fell by the wayside - R Ashwin edged Lyon onto the stumps via his boot, and Harbhajan Singh gifted Henriques a first Test wicket with an unseemly waft that did not impress Dhoni - but Bhuvneshwar provided sturdy support. Dhoni toyed with the strike, taking singles at times and spurning them at others, and invariably connecting cleanly when he deigned to swing for the fences.

Australia's bowlers and fielders gradually wilted, Ed Cowan missing a tough chance from Bhuvneshwar while others misfielded, and Pattinson's pace dipped as steadily as Lyon's bite. All the while, the lead grew from pesky to match-defining dimensions. Such a possibility had seemed so unlikely at the moment Tendulkar fell.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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