Chennai: They streamed through the turnstiles in the morning with the intention of watching Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, the past and the future of Indian batsmanship. By day's end, the thousands at Chepauk were on their feet to applaud MS Dhoni, the present captain, whose stunning unbeaten 206 gave India a stranglehold on this game. With two days left to play, India were 515 for 8, a lead of 135.
The numbers were incredible enough - 243 balls faced, 22 fours and five sixes. But they didn't convey the majesty of an innings that utterly transformed the match. A measure of Dhoni's final-session domination can be found from his partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The pushed single to short third man that got him to his first double-century also raised the hundred partnership. Bhuvneshwar's contribution was 13.
Dhoni's virtuoso display also obscured a superb innings earlier in the day. Tendulkar may have added only 10 to his overnight 71, but Kohli followed up his Nagpur hundred against England with a classy 107. His 128-run partnership with Dhoni gave India the initiative, though he didn't stay at the crease long enough to see his captain hammer it home.
Australia's plight in the final session was made worse by an abysmal over-rate. Even with the half-hour extension, they were an over short, forcing Michael Clarke to bowl Nathan Lyon and David Warner's innocuous legspin. By stumps, Lyon had gone for 182 from his 40 overs, though he did have the wickets of Tendulkar, Kohli and R Ashwin to show for his travails.
There was no hint of the drama to come as Australia's pace bowlers put Tendulkar and Kohli through the wringer in the opening hour. James Pattinson was hostile and relentless, while Peter Siddle at the other end also gave them nothing to hit. At one stage, India went 30 balls without scoring.
The pressure built by the pace bowlers was exploited by Lyon, who came on and got Tendulkar with a delivery that drifted, turned sharply and took the inside edge on to the stumps. With only 21 runs coming from the first hour of play, India were under no illusions about the task ahead.
Kohli broke the shackles somewhat, pulling Lyon for six, and Dhoni showed his intent with two meaty leg-side cleaves off the same bowler. While Pattinson's eight overs for the session cost just 16 runs, the intensity wasn't maintained at the other end, where Moises Henriques saw Kohli work him through point and then the vacant slip area for fours.
Pattinson took the second new ball soon after lunch, but there was no repeat of the previous day's heroics as Dhoni welcomed it with a lashed square-drive. He then took Mitchell Starc for three fours in an over, and watched with a smile on his face as Kohli clipped Pattinson powerfully off the pads to get to his hundred off 199 balls.
It was his fourth Test century, and the two took 54 off the first seven overs with the second new ball before the introduction of Lyon again paid dividends. Kohli smacked one to mid-on, where Starc took a smartly judged catch.
There was a brief lull from Dhoni's bat, and a couple of confident leg-before shouts turned down, before he sauntered down the pitch to flick Siddle over midwicket and reach his hundred (119 balls).
Jadeja made 16 before shouldering arms to Pattinson, coming round the wicket, while Ashwin was bowled via bat and pad. Harbhajan Singh then played a horrible heave across the line to give Henriques his first Test wicket, but after that the Dhoni show took over an enthralled crowd.
Lyon went for two sixes in an over as he surpassed Alec Stewart's 164 - the highest score by a wicketkeeper-captain - and there was more muscular destruction as Australia were run ragged. Misfields crept in and dives were misjudged as hopes of first-innings parity gave way to the realisation that backs were now firmly up against the wall.
At 5pm, when the umpires called it off, Clarke and his men were down for the count - sandbagged and left groggy by a once-in-a-lifetime innings from the poster child of cricket new-power generation.
Story first published on: Sunday, 24 February 2013 12:26 IST