India lost Tendulkar with the total on 196-4 – roughly around the halfway mark to the Australian total of 380. Nathan Lyon had tossed one up, got it to land in the rough, turn, take the inside edge and brush the leg-stump.
The 91-run partnership between Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, who went on to make 107, had allowed India to work their way back into the match. But the wicket left Australia feeling good; feeling like another wicket might give them the vital edge – a lead on a track that will be difficult to bat on in the fourth innings.
For the first hour of play, Australia had adopted the let’s-not-give-any-runs approach. Tendulkar and Kohli weren’t very keen to take the attack to the opposition. Australia just conceded 21 runs before the drinks break. So when Tendulkar’s wicket fell, they expected to tighten the noose even further.
Only one problem with that plan: Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Anytime a bowler gets Tendulkar’s wicket, he will feel good about himself. However, Dhoni knew that if he allowed Lyon to settle into a line, India will be asking for trouble. So as we’ve seen Virender Sehwag do so many times, he forced the bowler to change his line, his length.
He tried to slog sweep the first ball, missed and there were shakes of the head all around. We’ve often seen Dhoni come out in the middle, in the past, and play inexplicably – was this going to be one of those knocks? Turns out…. Not.
He pottered his way to 15 off 21 balls – no fours, just quick singles and twos. It’s a strategy that he tends to use in ODIs too – singles and twos to begin the innings and then the big shots. Then, he went on the attack.
Lyon was the man who bore the brunt of the counter-attack. Dhoni’s first two fours came off the off-spinner and he never quite let up. Each time Lyon came in to bowl, he was attacked and even forced out of the attack. In 73 balls Lyon bowled to Dhoni, he was hit for 91 runs – 19 singles, 8 twos, 8 fours and 4 sixes. Mitchell Starc, 24 runs off 28 balls; Henriques 23 runs off 29 balls.
Dhoni picked his bowlers and made them pay. But he knew that against bowlers like Pattinson, he needed to just play out the balls – so he made 17 runs off 35 balls initially but then as the paceman tired, he too was taken for a few.
But madness was on full display after lunch. Australia took the new ball and with it, lost the momentum. Dhoni took 12 balls to go from 40 to 60; he took another 12 balls from 60 to 80. It was a phase that could well go on to define the match for India. Kohli joined in the fun too.
From a position, where India were wondering if they would reach the Australian total, they quickly moved to a position where they could start thinking about a lead. A shell-shocked Australia didn’t know how to react. Dhoni has stolen a march over them and how. This was supposed to be a turner and the odd ball was turning and bouncing but the manner in which Dhoni went after Australia’s long spinner, Lyon, destroyed whatever chance the Aussies had.
During the course of the innings — he is unbeaten on 206 at close on Day Three, he broke a number of records. He went past his previous highest Test score of 148 against Pakistan in 2006, also made the highest score by an Indian captain against Australia in a Test match – going past Azhar’s 163 in 1998 at Kolkata. Also the highest score by an Indian wicketkeeper, going past Budhi Kunderan’s 192 (vs England, Chennai, 1964). It is also the highest score by a keeper-captain in Tests, beating Alec Stewart’s 164 (vs SA,Manchester, 1998).
He even has more runs than Sourav Ganguly as captain and in fewer matches after this now. (check out all the stats HERE.)
But the best part of the innings was how he seemed to be playing for the team at all times. From the way he farmed the strike in the ninth wicket partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar (109 runs, Dhoni’s contribution 85), the cold treatment he gave Harbhajan after he played a wild slog to get out bowled to the manner in which he roused Kohli into action. It was a captain’s knock all the way.
By the end of the day, the Aussies were misfielding, they looked ragged, tired and defeated. It was a sight you rarely see. And it was all down to the calculated madness of one man.