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MS Dhoni’s bludgeoning maiden ton takes India to safety against Pakistan at Faisalabad in 2006

MS Dhoni essayed his first hundred in Tests at Faisalabad against Pakistan in 2006 © AFP
MS Dhoni essayed a fine hundred at Faisalabad against Pakistan © AFP

On January 23, 2006, MS Dhoni essayed a brilliant innings to rescue India from a precarious position against Pakistan at Faisalabad. Bhavesh Bhimani has more…

The Indian cricket team’s tour to Pakistan in early 2006 is not something that many people recall too often. It was not one of those thrilling, nail-biting and adrenaline pumping encounters that one generally associates with an Indo-Pak clash. While the first Test was quite mundane for most of the part, the One-Day series turned out to be rather one-sided. The second Test of the three-match series was lit up by one man’s sizzling heroics when it was otherwise heading towards an almost certain Indian defeat.

The build up

The first Test match of the series, truncated by inclement weather, was played at Lahore and had resulted in a high-scoring draw. Thus people were hoping to see a better contest in the second Test at Faisalabad, played from January 21-25, 2006.

Led by Rahul Dravid, the Indian team had a good mix of experienced stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble besides the captain himself, and a young crop of talented players like Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Inzamam-ul-Haq-led Pakistan, on the other hand, were a very well-balanced unit; playing at home, they were expectedly very potent.

After winning the toss, Pakistan chose to bat first and put on a mammoth first innings score of 588 with the captain and Shahid Afridi scoring blistering centuries. The task was thus cut out for the Indian batsmen and they had no other option but to score big in order to keep themselves alive in the Test.

The Indian reply

The new Indian opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Dravid, fresh from their record partnership of 410 runs in the earlier match, could not continue their magic in this one as Sehwag fell early for 31 with the score reading 39 for one. In walked Laxman, and both he and Dravid began the process of bailing India out of trouble. The pair ensured that no other wicket fell that day and India ended Day Two of the Test at 110 for one. On Day Three, the first target of the Indians was to reach the score of 389 to avoid the follow-on. The duo looked set to take India to safety as both seemed equally comfortable against all the Pakistani bowlers and played some handsome strokes all round the wicket.

However, after lunch, an inspired spell of bowling by the fast and furious Shoaib Akhtar and some panic play by the Indian batsmen caused jitters in the Indian camp.  The first to go was Laxman for 90 as he edged one to Kamran Akmal off Danish Kaneria. The 197-run stand between the two batsmen had finally been broken.

Dravid followed soon after, when he committed a complete hara-kiri and got run out while going for a non-existent run. The captain had scored a well-complied 103. The next man, Yuvraj, did not last long either and was accounted for by Mohammad Asif for just four. The scoreboard read 258 for four and a repair job was desperately needed. Tendulkar, who was already at the crease, was joined by India’s wicketkeeper batsman  Dhoni, a relatively new entrant to the world of Test cricket.

Meanwhile, Akhtar was charged up and bowling his heart out. He kept bowling at chest height to Tendulkar, who tried his best to negate Akhtar’s searing pace and bounce, but eventually succumbed to one of the searing bouncers and gloved one to the keeper for 14. The Pakistanis went cock-a-hoop.

The Indian batting suddenly looked in tatters as the scorecard now read 281 for five with Irfan Pathan and Dhoni at the crease. Things were looking grim for India then. Few had expected on what ensued.

The Dhoni show

With 108 runs still needed to avoid the follow-on and two relatively inexperienced batsmen at the crease, it appeared that India would succumb to the pressure soon. Added to it was the fact that Akhtar was spewing venom. However, Dhoni had other ideas. Playing in only his fourth Test match, Dhoni began cautiously, albeit momentarily. Akhtar welcomed Dhoni to the crease by continuously peppering him with short balls around his rib cage. Dhoni hopped and ducked for a few balls until he decided to cut loose.

Dhoni swatted a short ball from Akhtar over the square leg fence for a savage six: it was the seventh ball he had faced. It was a stunning shot, as Dhoni dismissed the ball inches from his face and watched it nonchalantly sailing over the stands, even as Akhtar glared at him. What followed thereafter was sheer mayhem.

From then on, Dhoni counter-attacked in the most sensational manner deciding to counter fire with fire. He played on the up, and cut and square-drove all the bowlers. Anything short, especially from Mohammad Asif, was dispatched brutally to the fence. Akhtar was taken off the attack after a few overs: this gave Dhoni the complete license to unleash himself.  Kaneria, in particular, was taken for special treatment as Dhoni bludgeoned two gigantic sixes off him off continuous deliveries.

Irfan Pathan played maturely at the other end and was the perfect aide to Dhoni’s massacre as he held one end up. The Pakistani fielders, sensing that the game might slip away from their hands, began to try and rile Dhoni up and break his concentration by constantly jabbering at him. However, Dhoni was unfazed and continued his assault: he soon brought up his second Test fifty off only 34 deliveries.

On reaching the milestone Dhoni calmed down a bit and restrained himself from attacking every delivery. Nevertheless he was still uncontainable and played shots on almost all sides of the wicket. One particular shot, a silken cover drive off Abdul Razzaq for a boundary, displayed Dhoni’s versatility. Even Michael Holding, who was commentating on air, was forced to admire the shot. “So easy on the eyes,” he remarked.

A few overs later, Dhoni took India to safety, when he cut a Shahid Afridi delivery off the back foot for four and ensured that India had avoided the follow-on — a threat that had seemed unavoidable at one point. Dhoni did not stop after this and continued his relentless demolition act. Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Danish Kaneria all came and went, but the young Indian star did not tire. In the 110th over of the innings Dhoni drove a short of a good length delivery outside the off stump by Akhtar over the infield to the deep cover region, for three runs and brought up his maiden international Test hundred off 93 balls. The second fifty was comparatively slower; it had taken him 59 balls. Raising his hands genially to his teammates, Dhoni’s celebration was in complete contrast to his savage innings.

Dhoni slowed down after his century as the day was coming to an end. He and Pathan ensured that no other wicket fell till the end of the day’s play as India were now comfortably placed on 441 for five at the end of Day Three.

The start of the next day was a little sedate as both the batsmen played cautiously to see off the early morning swing. However, soon enough, Dhoni took on Akhtar again, punishing him for 18 runs in an over as the bowler kept trying to bowl short deliveries and Dhoni kept smashing them to the fence. Akhtar was visibly peeved at the end of the over as he was seen slamming his foot on the ground in frustration. The Pakistanis were shell-shocked and didn’t know how to get the batsman out.

A little later, Dhoni tried to attempt another big hoick over the mid-wicket off Kaneria. This time though, as he stepped out of the crease, he missed the spinner’s leg-break and was stumped for 148. Thus, one of the most brutal counter-attacking innings ended with India’s score reading 489 for six. Dhoni had faced 153 balls and had cracked 19 fours and four massive sixes in his scintillating innings. He had shared a 210 run partnership with Pathan, an Indian record against Pakistan, and had taken India to safety from the brink of certain embarrassment.

What followed?

Irfan Pathan continued the good work of Dhoni and as the Indian tail wagged, he went on to score a well-composed innings of 90. The others hung around for a bit and took India’s final score to 603; fifteen more than Pakistan’s total.

There was not much left in the match after this, as it was already halfway through Day Four when the Indian innings had got over. The match eventually ended in a draw as Pakistan put on 490 in their second innings before declaring and India was left to face just eight overs in their second foray, which they did without the loss of any wicket.

India went on to lose the third Test match at Karachi despite Irfan’s brilliance with the ball. The Test series thus went to Pakistan 1-0. However, a young Indian side hit back and emphatically won the 5-match One-Day International (ODI) series that followed, 4-1, with Dhoni and Yuvraj shining in most of the games.

The tour though would mostly be remembered by Indian fans for the second Test match. The scorecard of this match would show a tame draw. However, those who had witnessed the match would know that it was lit up by a young Indian batsman who bailed his team out of trouble with the most audacious hundred. The rise of Mahendra Singh Dhoni had thus commenced.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 588 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 119, Shahid Afridi 156; RP Singh 4 for 89, Zaheer Khan 3 for 135) and 490 for 8 decl. (Younis Khan 194, Mohammad Yousuf 126; Zaheer Khan 4 for 61) drew with India 603 (Rahul Dravid 103, MS Dhoni 148; Danish Kaneria 3 for 165) and 21 for no loss (VVS Laxman 8*).

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