Australia raised hopes of taking a firm grip on a match in the ongoing series against India, when Steven Smith combined with Mitchell Starc to take Australia past the 400-run mark. Having been thoroughly outplayed in the series so far, captain Michael Clarke’s eyes would have lit up looking at the three digit corresponding to Australia’s scorecard just before lunch. With 157 runs coming from the last three batsmen, Michael Clarke would have finally had the belief that this was the day when Australia dramatically pulled things back in an otherwise one-sided series. What followed left Australia bewildered as Shikhar Dhawan was simply unstoppable in two sessions of rare batting brilliance.
With both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir out of the picture, India had two new openers. Clarke would have expected debutant Dhawan to be a bit nervous and tentative early on as he filled the shoes of the swashbuckling Sehwag. To Clarke’s horror, Dhawan seemed comfortable the moment he took guard and ended up providing a visual treat to the few fans gathered at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali. Dhawan put on one of the finest displays of batting as he finished the day unbeaten on 185, bulldozing handful of records en route.
The 27-year-old Delhi batsman gobbled up Starc’s lower-order heroics with an exciting knock on debut. There were no signs of any pressure of having replaced Sehwag in the side as he pummeled the Australian bowlers. He had waited on the sidelines for long enough before this opportunity came his way. And he made sure by ensuring he kept it for a long time. Matthew Hayden opined Dhawan’s knock will be spoken about for years to come. But in eulogising Dhawan, one should not forget the role of his opening partner, Murali Vijay.
Vijay had a poor run in the Ranji Trophy. However, in the Irani Trophy game at the start of the season he scored a mammoth 266. More importantly, he scored a timely 116 against Mumbai last month which earned him a place in the India side. With Gambhir left out of the first two Tests, Vijay became the first choice — ahead of the promising talent Ajinkya Rahane — to partner Sehwag.
After a scintillating knock of 167 against Australia in the previous Test at Hyderabad, Vijay has followed it up with a solid, unbeaten 85 in Mohali. Vijay has shown considerable maturity in adapting to the team’s needs than play his natural, attacking game, to stitch big partnerships. In Hyderabad, he was in company of in-form Cheteshwar Pujara, whereas he has debutant Dhawan for company at Mohali.
Vijay may not have matched Dhawan’s aggressive approach but not for once he allowed the Australians to get the upper hand. While Dhawan was biting away into Australia’s confidence, Vijay was stealthily creeping in to knock Australia off its feet. It was a great combination which left the Aussies completely clueless on the field.
Dhawan’s Herculean effort on debut will be one of the talking points of the series, but Vijay’s growth as a Test opener cannot be underestimated.
Vijay and Dhawan have replaced to stalwarts who still have to offer Indian cricket a lot. To be able to replace Sehwag and Gambhir permanently is going to be a huge challenge before Vijay and Dhawan. They will be aware that consistency is the only thing that can keep them from being knocked off the perch. Irrespective of how much Vijay adds on Day Four, Saturday’s knock as the supporting artist will only strengthen his case for a long future as an opener in Tests.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasanis an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)