It was not long after Sachin Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara had given the finishing touches to the first Test that Michael Clarke was seen having a long chat with his good friend Shane Warne adjacent to the centre square of the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
From Australia captain's
comments at the presentation ceremony and the media conference later, it was obvious MS Dhoni's influence on the match was playing on his mind. It can be safely surmised that the India captain's knock figured in his discussion when he tried to pick one of the shrewdest brains in world cricket - that seemed obvious going by Warne demonstrating Dhoni's trademark lofted shot down the ground while making a point.
Dhoni's blistering knock of 224 was the game-changing innings, and naturally it has left Australia worried how to prevent the Ranchi man from making such impact going forward in the series. When he walked in to bat at No 6 on the third day, the game was evenly poised with India a long way from Australia's first innings total of 380.
In a tight series between two evenly matched outfits, clear domination is difficult. Every advantage needs to be maximised, making contribution by the lower order and tail-enders equally vital. The first Test was an example of how the role of the No 6 batsman could prove decisive in the series. It's a position where the pressure is intense and the job includes shepherding the tail. When it clicks, the psychological impact on the opposition can be telling.
Australia used to do that brilliantly in the Steve Waugh era and VVS Laxman performed this role admirably during Sourav Ganguly's captaincy. Dhoni did a fine job of it in the opening rubber of this Border-Gavaskar series; he soaked in the pressure and took the tail along with him.
The game as a contest was over on the fourth day itself - the last rites of Australia's second innings was performed by Ravindra Jadeja on the final morning. He ended the stubborn resistance of the last wicket by dismissing No 11 Nathan Lyon, leaving debutant Moises Henriques stranded on a fighting 81. The token chase of 50 runs was completed with eight wickets in hand.
A lot of players will cherish this win - R Ashwin had a dream first Test at home, returning 12 wickets, Virat scored a stylish hundred and Sachin Tendulkar silenced the age debate with 81.
Dhoni would look back at his knock with a lot of pride; it was the performance that made the big difference. Given the criticism he has received for the team's recent losses and then to come out and lead the team to victory with a match-winning performance will make him a very satisfied man. This victory has come in the middle of the most turbulent phase of his captaincy; the way he has maintained focus on the job despite increasing criticism has been impressive. The clarity of thought is the key, Dhoni said: "What really matters is the job I'm trying to do - and the best thing that I have done is not to watch television or read newspapers so that has really helped, frankly."
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