The victory in the Chennai Test has somewhat overshadowed MS Dhoni’s double century which for me deserves a place among the great innings played by an Indian in 80 years of Test cricket.
In a list published on a cricket website some years ago, VVS Laxman’s 281 took pride of place among knocks played by Indian batsmen in Tests. Even among the plethora of great knocks played by Indians over the years it would be difficult to argue against the Hyderabad’s touch artist’s immortal innings against Australia at Kolkata in March 2001 being at the pinnacle.
It was an innings that turned a Test on its head, a side that had been outclassed in the series thus far clawed its way back into the game and for only the third time in Test history a team following on went on to win the match. The hunter had become the hunted and India also went on to win the series by clinching the decider at Chennai a week later.
For an innings to be decreed as great there are many criteria to be considered. The surface, the opposition, the manner in which the runs have been made, the situation of the game as the knock was played and its impact on the match and the series. The boxes against Laxman’s innings are all ticked right away with its size being an additional plus factor.
As far as I am concerned, the Dhoni dhamaka in Chennai is right up there with the very best. Its impact on the rest of the series is yet to be seen but in the list of anyone’s outstanding Test innings by an Indian it should make the cut straightaway.
Let’s first consider the state of the match when Dhoni entered. India were 196 for four early on the third day when the Indian captain as jauntily as ever made an appearance at the crease. The match was in the balance as Australia had led off with an impressive 380 in the first innings. At this stage it appeared that at best India could get level with Australia which meant that the disadvantage of batting last still loomed large.
The surface was a tricky one. It was clearly a spinner’s paradise but with something in it for the fast bowlers too as James Pattinson had showed in picking up the openers cheaply and adding a third wicket a little later. Also Nathan Lyon had just bowled Sachin Tendulkar with a peach of a delivery.
And yet by the end of the day India had taken a stranglehold on the Test with a closing score of 515 for eight. It was clearly not a pitch on which 500 should have been scored – let alone 572. And yet Dhoni, adopting a mind over matter attitude, made batting look so simple that by the end of the day he was unbeaten with 206 knocking the fight out of the Aussies who are known to be dangerous opponents when cornered. Dhoni dealt them a knock-out blow from which there could be no recovery.
Even as wickets fell regularly at the other end, Dhoni kept going for his shots on a pitch where stroke making was not entirely easy. And now and then he cut loose picking up Lyon for special treatment. Virender Sehwag has hit a double century in a day – he has accomplished the feat three times – but few would have thought that Dhoni had it in him to emulate the swashbuckling opening batsman.
Of late he has become more circumspect in his approach in both forms of the game but this was a throwback to the Dhoni who arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air – he had a strike rate of 100 during the early period of his ODI career and it is still a very impressive 88. Records were set left, right and centre as the 31-year-old Indian captain blazed his way to 224 from just 265 balls with 24 fours and six sixes.
His strike rate of 84.5 for a double century was quite remarkable and the innings came to a pyrotechnical conclusion during his association with Bhuvneshwar Kumar which came within nine runs of erasing a long standing Indian ninth wicket record standing in the name of Nana Joshi and Ramakant Desai who added 149 runs against Pakistan at Bombay in 1960.
By the time Dhoni was out early on the fourth morning, the result of the match was a foregone conclusion. Instead of a battle for the first innings lead, which was the scenario when Dhoni entered, India were now ahead by 192 runs. It was obvious that they would not be required to bat last for an extended period of time on a pitch that was increasingly helping the bowlers.
Moreover, reeling under his onslaught, even the Aussies, traditionally doughty warriors, lost the will to fight back. This was proved when they were all out for 241 in the second innings. They had been simply swept aside by the Dhoni dhamaka and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable victory was registered early on the final day – a result hardly anyone would have predicted 48 hours before.
It must also be remembered that Dhoni was under intense pressure coming into the game. Two series whitewashes in England and Australia had dimmed the aura over his head that appeared following the World Cup victory two years before. Then came a most unexpected home series defeat and Dhoni’s head was on the chopping block.
All and sundry were calling for him to being axed from the captaincy, his batting form had dipped and he could do nothing right just as not too long ago he could do nothing wrong. In India the expectations from the game’s followers can be notoriously unfair and the media scrutiny unbelievably harsh. Dhoni simply followed the age old sporting adage to let his on-field performance do the talking. History, I am sure, will put Dhoni’s 224 on the pedestal on which it deserves to be placed.