SK Flashback: MS Dhoni takes Australia to the cleaners at Chennai
Dhoni's masterpiece of 224 not only won the game for India but also set the tone for the entire Test series.
He was often criticised. His batting technique was always questioned. His captaincy had lost the silver lining as overseas tours became a nightmare.
But this was too much. Series defeat at the hands of England and that too when playing at home? Suddenly, ‘Captain Cool’ was no longer cool, his Midas touch had expired and Mahendra Singh Dhoni became the centre of all criticism.
Then he walked to bat on 23rd February 2013. The first Test versus Australia, at Chennai. Tendulkar had just departed and the scoreboard read 4 for 196. Suddenly Australia’s first inning total of 380 looked massive and everyone had one fear in mind- is this going the England way?
But the captain came to the crease with a plan and determination. The very first ball, he unsuccessfully tried to sweep Lyon from way outside off stump. This was un-Dhoni-esque. This was vintage Dhoni. This was the beginning.
His first boundary came off the 22nd ball as he lofted Lyon over mid-on. One ball later, he swept through mid-wicket boundary. There were more hits and Dhoni started to take on the charge.
Clarke brought the pacers on to stop Dhoni, but the man on mission dismissed them with ease. Pattinson was hit over point while Starc was hammered for three boundaries in one over. Dhoni reached 50 in only 59 balls. This was not counter-attack; this was calculated aggression by the man who decided to unleash.
He stepped down against Henriques and deposited him over extra cover for six runs; to a pacer. That was some shot! One ball later, he stepped down again and smashed him through mid-on. Henriques looked like a club level bowler. That was the statement by Dhoni. He was not going to hold anything back.
Along with Kohli, he stitched a partnership of 128 runs off just 158 balls. No, this was not white ball cricket. This was red ball cricket. This was Test cricket.
Aussies take back the initiative
Australia struck back when this pair threatened to take the game away and soon the lower order fumbled. Jadeja, Ashwin, and Harbhajan were back in the hut without scoring much.
At the other end, Dhoni was unaffected by all this. He continued to attack and continued his natural game, smashing Siddle to the covers to a ball that was coming in. He then went down the track and pierced one through square leg region for four and brought up his hundred. In only 119 balls!
Australia took a few wickets and when Harbhajan departed, it looked like India is giving away their advantage.
Dhoni takes on the Australians
And then the Indian skipper, along with Bhuveneshwar Kumar, delivered the knockout punch.
That was the partnership where Dhoni batted like the old Dhoni. Fearless. Aggressive. Full of flair. And it was complete entertainment.
The Dhoni unplugged show.
With Bhuvi he added 140 runs, out of which Bhuvi’s contribution was of 21 runs. He muscled sixes, drilled fours, brought the helicopter shot out, bisected fields and thrashed the cricket ball to every corner of the ground. And all this with a composed face, relaxed body language, and deadly focused mind.
He jumped from 150 to 200 in just 46 balls. But who was looking at numbers? Everyone was mesmerised by those huge sixes and those powerful back drives.
In that scorching heat of Chennai, on a deteriorating pitch full of dust, Dhoni was toying with a bowling attack that had lost its venom and against a captain who was running out of options.
There was no respect, no regard for the bowlers or the opposition. It was as though he was hitting them at will and scoring when he wanted to.
The end of the Dhoni Show
A short ball from Pattinson that cramped Dhoni for room kissed Dhoni’s gloves, and the ball settled in wicket-keeper’s gloves finally ending Australia’s Chennai nightmare. There were no massive celebrations from the Aussies; their expression was one of relief.
By the time Dhoni got out, India’s score was propelled to 546 and they were ahead of Australia by 166 runs. But such was the audacity of this innings that the Indian lead wasn’t limited to runs. It was a strategic lead and set the foundation for India’s dominance in the latter part of the series.
Dhoni with this knock outplayed Australia and dented the Australian bowlers’ confidence to such a level that they could not get back to form in the remaining Test matches.
Bowlers wrap up the game; series whitewash
Ashwin and Jadeja took over from here on and wrecked Aussie batting line-up. Pujara and Vijay scored magnificent centuries in next Test matches but by then Australian bowlers were only completing formalities.
The series ended with 4-0 and Australia tasted a complete whitewash. It was the beginning of ruthless domination at home by Team India which continues to even today. And that’s why this knock of 224 holds a special place in cricketing history.
And criticism about his captaincy? All was forgotten. The nation loved their ‘Captain Cool’.