Australia piled up 408 in the first innings, their finest batting performance so far on this tour, but India retaliated with their third highest-ever opening collaboration on the third day of the third Test here on Saturday. At stumps, India were 283 for no loss with Shikhar Dhawan unbeaten on 185 (168b, 33x4, 2x6) and Murali Vijay batting on 83. Dhawan’s was the fastest hundred by a debutant, eclipsing Dwayne Smith’s record against SA in Cape Town.
From pushing Mitchell Starc through cover to tick off his Test career to replicating the stroke to knock off his hundred in a little matter of 85 balls, Dhawan demonstrated varied repertoire of his stokes.
Like most left-handers, he favoured the cover region, stroking a torrent of boundaries through cover and the arc between point and extra cover. Glorious stroke melted into glorious as he bought his half-century in the 50th ball, driving Nathan Lyon through long-on.
Soon after completing his half-century, he went ballistic, powering both Starc and Xavier Doherty for a brace of boundaries in successive overs, all through his preferred area. And when he got bored of cover-driving and pulling, he swept and reverse paddled the spinners and raged down the track to both, dismantling them inside-out over extra cover.
The sweep of Doherty in the 23rd over bore the T20 stamp — down the leg-side and he had neither the room for the conventional paddle sweep nor was it close enough for the leg glance and hence he swept without getting his body completely down, more of an upright sweep. But otherwise, there was little T20-ish about his knock. It was just pristine shot-making. Not until the 108th ball, he felt the urge to loft. Apart from a thick outside edge that flew past the vacant second slip and the half-chance that evaded Phil Hughes, his innings was inscrutable.
There was little Australia could have done to stop the run glut. Michael Clarke fiddled with his bowlers, but none made any perceptible impression, more so as shadows lengthened on the stadium.
They needn’t be particularly erroneous as Murali Vijay made an imperious half-century and combined with Dhawan to produce India’s best opening partnership against Australia. Beyond a point, as the Indian duo tucked into them, the response was listless.
Dhawan channelised his nervous energy en route to the highest score by an Indian debutant, Starc perished to nerves, as he fell a run short of what could have been his maiden first-class hundred.
Nerves swarmed him through the 90s, before he eventually edged a harmless Ishant Sharma delivery to MS Dhoni. Nonetheless, his 99, highest by an Australian number nine since Ray Lindwall’s hundred in 1947, enabled Australia to their best batting effort of this series.
Joining Steve Smith overnight, with Australia precariously perched at 273 for 7, he first offered support to Smith, with whom he added 97 runs for the eighth wicket. And after Smith’s dismissal for 92, that should shut his critics, he added 51 runs with Nathan Lyon, pushing Australia to safety. But the impetus Vijay and Dhawan have given the hosts with, Australia’s position is far less secure. Australia’s position is far less secure.