MS Dhoni became the fourth Indian captain to score double hundred in Test    AFP
MS Dhoni became the fourth Indian captain to score double hundred in Test AFP

February 24, 2013, a historic day when a swaggering MS Dhoni reduced Australia to nothingness, as he plundered 224 and took India out of the woods. Before this Test, in a span of 2 years, a whitewash in England and Australia despite boasting of an experienced team had put Captain Cool’s captaincy on the line. Gradually, he lost his Midas touch after a 1-2 drubbing, on home soil, against England. But isn’t it always dark just before the dawn? Kaustubh S. Mayekar goes down memory lane and relives Dhoni’s best knock in the longest format. Read: MS Dhoni’s many records on Sunday and the possibilities of more on Monday

Australia won the toss, and unhesitatingly chose to bat first on a belter of a track. Captain Michael Clarke’s 130 put them in a commanding position, but were eventually skittled out for 380, courtesy Ravichandran Ashwin’s stunning seven-for.

Against the might of the famed Indian batting order, 380 was certainly not enough. However, the young James Pattinson knocked over the top three batsmen, comprising Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, and reduced India to 105 for 3.

The onus was then on the veteran Sachin Tendulkar and emerging Virat Kohli to steady the sinking ship. Both batsmen watched the ball closely, gradually taking control over the game. Australia’s pace attack was fading away. Clarke had no option but to keep Nathan Lyon in long spell.

The tactic paid off, as Lyon dismantled Tendulkar’s defence on 81. There was a pin-drop silence at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Tendulkar was cheered world over, but Chepauk was different than the rest. The people’s champion was back to the pavilion. The scoreboard read 196 for 4.

Enter MS Dhoni. India were trailing by 184. There were footmarks outside off. The pitch was deteriorating. The stage was all set for Lyon to keep making inroads into India’s lower-middle order.

Kohli, at the other end, looked in ominous touch. All eyes were on him. It seemed Dhoni would play the second fiddle.

However, there was something different in Dhoni’s body language. He looked calm, but there was fire in his approach. He swept the very first ball and made no connection whatsoever. He jabbed at the next few deliveries; then, again, swept everything outside off, dealing in singles. This was a hint that the captain was in no-nonsense mood.

Lyon to Dhoni. It was yet another tossed up delivery, pitched slightly outside off. Despite sweeping, he played through the line and spanked it over mid-on. “That is straight out of the Dhoni school of batsmanship,” said Harsha Bhogle on air.

Lyon stationed maximum players on off-side, making Dhoni push the ball. But, Dhoni the kind of character that we know he is started counterattacking. He stretched his front leg outside off and swept away to deep mid-wicket. “This is going to be a challenge for Lyon now. This is why Test cricket is so much fun,” added the eloquent Bhogle. Read – MS Dhoni: Darling of Indian media

Lyon stuck to his off-side line. Dhoni drove and dissected extra-cover and mid-off. Lyon was then forced to come round the wicket. The result was the same. Dhoni bagged another boundary. This time he punched it off the back foot. An unorthodox Dhoni displayed conventional brand of cricket, which was indeed a rare sight.

Clarke was forced to bring his wicket-taking bowler Pattinson back into the attack. Nothing changed. Dhoni’s stroke play got even lovelier. Soon he brought up his fifty, easing a full toss past point. “This is the innings that is turning the game around,” said Bhogle in excitement. The spotlight was no longer on Kohli.

Dhoni upped the ante even more. He danced down the track and sent Moises Henriques’ length ball sailing over the wide long-off boundary. “That is Dhoni special,” said cricketer-turned-commentator VVS Laxman.

Meanwhile, Kohli reached his century with a crisp flick. He took his helmet off in joy and acknowledged the crowd by showing his bat. However, he failed to continue his stellar show. While emulating Dhoni’s flamboyance, he got carried away and holed out to Mitchell Starc at mid-on. Dhoni was on 68 off 70, with India trailing by 56 runs and half the side in the pavilion.

While he continued the rampage, Pattinson put another nail in the coffin. Ravindra Jadeja left a length ball and got his off-stump uprooted. Ashwin soon joined him in the dressing room.

Dhoni knew he had no time on his hands. He gave charge and played an ugly heave to reach his hundred. “What a way to get to a hundred. This is meant to be a Test match. There’s a little bit of admiration in the opposition as well,” Bhogle was at his absolute best.

Henriques ended Harbhajan Singh’s 11-run innings. Dhoni seemed upset as the Turbanator played an unnecessary slog at such crucial juncture.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar joined Dhoni in the middle, with India leading by only 26 runs.

With a tail-ender at the other end, Dhoni decided to take most of the strike. And, to dent the exhausted Australian bowlers, he made sure he smashed a boundary in the first three balls.

In the process, he scored most runs in an innings by an Indian wicketkeeper by spanking a short delivery to the vacant deep mid-wicket region, surpassing Budhi Kunderan’s 192. Read: Read: Virat Kohli may be ready but there is still time for him to replace MS Dhoni

He batted all day under the scorching heat. He was huffing and puffing. But that didn’t stop the diligent Dhoni from becoming the fourth Indian captain to score a double hundred in Tests. He added another milestone to his illustrious career.

Dhoni continued what he had started: shimmy down the track and hit hard as he can. In short, he treated the Australian bowling unit as a punching bag. All in all, he bludgeoned 6 sixes and 24 boundaries.

He was finally dismissed while hooking, falling short of 8 runs to surpass the highest score by a wicketkeeper. He stitched up 140-run stand with Bhuvneshwar for the ninth wicket.

India put 572 runs on the scoreboard, taking a lead of 192 runs. Eventually, Indian won the match by 8 wickets with Dhoni adjudged Man of the Match for his swaggering knock.

As a matter of fact, an unconventional Dhoni outshone the likes of Tendulkar and Kohli.

It was an ideal tutorial on how to bat when the troops are down and stitch vital runs with the tail-enders. He jabbed, drove, pulled, hooked, heaved, and swept, reverse-swept; he did everything to take his team to the doorstep of victory.

Brief scores:

Australia 380 (Michael Clarke 130, Moises Henriques 68; James Pattinson 96 for 5) and 241 (Moises Henriques 81, Ed Cowan 32; James Pattinson 1 for 13) lost to India 572 (MS Dhoni 224, Virat Kohli 107; R Ashwin 7 for 103) and 50 for 2 (Virender Sehwag 19, Sachin Tendulkar 13; R Ashwin 5 for 95) by 8 wickets.

Man of the Match: MS Dhoni

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)