Mohali: Every time Australia have threatened to do well on this tour, India have crushed their hopes. India's progress has been relentless, and the waves crashed on Australia's dreams once more in a dramatic day's play at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali on Saturday (March 16). Australia, powered by the an unlikely 99 from Mitchell Starc, put 408 on the board, but could only watch in shock and awe as India's openers made a mockery of this score. Shikhar Dhawan, in the most eye-catching debut ever by an Indian batsman, shredded Australia's bowlers to race to an unbeaten 185 as India romped to 283 for no loss from only 58 overs.
When the day began, the game was tilted slightly in India's favour, with Australia having only 273 on the board with Steven Smith and the fag end of the tail still to bat. Had India polished off the innings quickly, they would have been in the driver's seat, but Starc killed that thought, hitting cleanly through the line to take Australia well past the 350 runs they craved. Starc, making the most of some indifferent bowling, cleared the infield at will, especially off Ishant Sharma, and was in kissing distance of a maiden Test hundred when he fell, against the run of play. With the field in saving the single, and Ishant finally getting the ball in the right areas, Starc poked at one to be well caught by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. With 408 first-innings runs on the board and an entire day lost to rain, Australia would have considered themselves safe, but that did not take into account Dhawan's riposte.
With one over to play before lunch, Murali Vijay took strike, allowing the debutant to get a feel for the conditions without being in any danger. When India returned after the break, it became clear that Dhawan needed no such buffer. Having waited 81 first-class matches and 5679 runs for a chance to show that he was good enough to play Test cricket, Dhawan wasted little time in taking the attack to the Australians. Although he took almost no risks, and a hallmark of his innings was the ability to keep the ball along the ground even when hitting on the up, Dhawan left Vijay far behind early on.
The fast bowlers, who should have picked up a bit of confidence after their work with the bat in the morning, proved easy pickings. Starc was pinged repeatedly through cover, with anything full getting the treatment. Foot to the pitch of the ball, timing matching power perfectly, there was no playing and missing or hitting to the infielders as Dhawan raced to a run-a-ball half-century with 48 of those runs coming from 12 scoring shots.
Any attempt by the bowlers to take corrective measures, such as putting the field back or changing line and length, were was with severity. Dhawan never attempted to manufacture big strokes, but he did not hold back from hitting the ball to unorthodox areas. The fast bowlers were driven either side of the point fielder, and spinners were reverse- and lap-swept with impunity.
When Dhawan reached his century off only 85 balls - the fastest by a Test debutant - he had given Australia just one glimmer of a chance, when a thickish edge off Peter Siddle eluded a lunging Philip Hughes at gully. On a day in which Dhawan owned Australia's attack, he also became the proud custodian of several records: Most runs on debut by an opener (previous best KC Ibrahim, 85 v West Indies, 1948); highest score by an Indian on debut (Gundappa Viswanath, 137 v Australia, 1969); fastest to 100 on debut (Dwayne Smith, 93 balls, v South Africa, 2004).
Dhawan was completely unstoppable, and Vijay had the good sense to merely keep his end up and rotate the strike, reaching a well-compiled 83 in an opening stand of 283. Dhawan (185*, 168b, 33×4, 2×6) had been severe on Xavier Doherty (46 runs from 30 balls) and Smith (20 from 12 balls) but none of the other Australian bowlers could claim to have been effective with India scoring their runs at 4.87.