Stumps on day three: India 283/0 (Murali 83*, Dhawan 185*). Australia 408 (Starc 99, Smith 92, Cowan 86, Ishant 3/72).
Shikhar Dhawan put on an offside masterclass in a magnificent Test debut, racing to the fastest debut hundred ever between lunch and tea before ending the day unbeaten on 185 and leaving Michael Clarke and Australia’s bowlers scratching their heads in exasperation.
Clarke used six different bowlers in an attempt to prise him out, but Dhawan treated them all the same – like net bowlers on a lazy Sunday morning.
Murali Vijay gave him plenty of support, making a half-century of his own as the openers added 283 in double-quick time - India’s run-rate stayed above five for most of the innnings – but it was the Dhawan show from the moment he crunched Peter Siddle on the up through the covers.
There was one half-chance, when he slashed Siddle uppishly through gully on 94 and Phillip Hughes just got a finger on it, but otherwise it was a faultless innings full of copybook drives and cuts. He reached three figures from just 85 balls, and remarkably maintained that pace throughout his innings on a Mohali pitch that now had nothing in it for the bowlers.
It all started so sedately too. Dhawan picked up his first run with a gentle push into the offside. Then he turned on the jets, punching the fast bowlers on the up through the covers, and using his feet to the spinners to pierce the gaps in a packed offside cordon. If he was nervous, having replaced Virender Sehwag in the XI, he showed no signs of it as 40 of his first 44 runs came in boundaries, and 80 of his first 91.
There was not a false stroke among them and it was done not with brute force, but with touch, timing and exquisite placement, the ball fair flying off the middle of the bat. So complete was Dhawan’s control of his craft that it felt like a fever dream, where everything is heightened and slightly unreal. Some of his cover drives against the fast bowlers seemed improbable – balls on a good length being casually, but clinically, dispatched in a manner reminiscent of Sehwag.
Moises Henriques, with his military medium, bore the brunt of Dhawan’s assault. In his first over, he was guided through the vacant point region for four and then thumped through cover. In his next over, Henriques was impudent enough to try a bouncer, which Dhawan pounced on and swatted to the square boundary.
He even gave Henriques the charge and drove him through the covers for four to bring up the fifty-partnership.
The spinners were not spared either. Xavier’s Doherty’s first over produced a copybook inside-out cover driver before he creamed him through point for another boundary. He brought up his fifty with a straight drive that teased two fielders into making despearing dives.
Clarke rotated his bowlers, using both his frontline spinners and seamers, but nothing ruffled Dhawan. He just kept hitting fours. Starc was dabbed late and then cut between gully and point, while 18 was taken off a Doherty over, with Dhawan simply toying with the field.
He began by skipping down the track to drive the left-arm spinner against the spin through cover. Then, noticing that Clarke had removed first slip, played a cheeky reverse-sweep for another boundary. A two and a dot ball was followed by perhaps the shot of the innings, dancing down the wicket again and just caressing the ball past the three men in the covers with exquisite timing. He capped the over by showing he can play the conventional sweep as well.
That took him to 87 from 73 balls, with 19 fours. He moved into the 90s with another drive for four on the up off Starc. Having reached 99, he took off for a sharp single and had to throw in the dive to make his ground, before throwing his arms up in the air with a giant smile on his face. Proving that the cricketing Gods were on his side this day, the ball ran away for four overthrows.
Of his 106 runs scored in the second session, 78 were scored through the off-side, and only 28 on the on-side. He was particularly prolific in the area between backward point and extra-cover, with 64 runs coming in that region. As he walked off for tea, Dhawan twirled the edge of his moustache, a man fully satisfied with his afternoon’s work.
On resumption, Dhawan ended his string of fours after tea by chipping down the track and hitting Lyon back over his head for six. He brought up India’s 200 by opening the bat and carving Starc past cover-point for four, then rubbed salt in Australia’s wound by standing tall and punching the fast-bowler through the same region.
Australia’s bowlers were getting ragged by this point – a full toss from Lyon was pulled through mid-wicket, and Dhawan began to score allround the wicket now. He hoicked
Doherty to midwicket to get to 149, then gently pushed him out on the offside for a single to reach 150 from 139 balls, with 29 fours and a six.
Having used all five of his main bowlers, Clarke turned to the part-time legspin of Steve Smith, but it was only more fodder for Dhawan in this mood. Two consecutive full tosses were efficiently dispatched either side of the man at mid-wicket. He was prepared to pull off the unconventional as well. Smith bowled a long hop down leg and Dhawan played a straight-batted sweep to very fine leg.
Just to prove he could hit the long ball when he wanted, he jumped out to Doherty and thumped him over long off for six. There was a long-on in place, but no long-off, so Dhawan gave himself room to swing the arms and effortless deposited the ball over the rope.
There was an air of invincibility about him by this point. It didn’t matter whether he was facing seam or spin, whether the ball was full or short, on offstump or leg, it was all met with the middle of the same bat and inevitably headed for the boundary (144 of his 185 runs came in boundaries).
Dhawan’s wagon wheel reflected his mastery of the offside: 122 runs came on that side of the wicket, with 63 scored on the on-side. He managed an even 100 in boundaries on the offside, 44 on the legside.
His onslaught tilted the momentum back in India’s favour after Australia had the better of the first session, with Mitchell Starc and Steven Smith making 99 and 92 respectively to push Australia past 400 for the first time in the series.
Starc was the unluckier of the two. He had marched confidently to 99 with a strike-rate over 70 when Dhoni brought the field up to prevent the single and the pressure told on Australia’s no 9. A couple of wild swings at Ishant followed before the fast bowler angled one across and Dhoni took a sharp diving catch to leave Starc short of his maiden century in first-class cricket and the Australia dressing room crestfallen.
Smith, who had used his feet to excellent effect, was on 92, his highest Test score, when a moment of brilliance from Ojha ended his innings. The left-arm spinner went a little wider, and drew him forward but Smith didn’t get to the pitch. Sharp turn took the ball past the bat and Dhoni was quick to spot Smith marginally out of his crease and whipped the bails off before running down the pitch to high-five the bowler.