Nathan Lyon is quickly learning that it takes a strong composition to survive the rigours of India. On day three of the first Test there were jubilant highs for the Australian off-spinner: the key wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, and a third later on, left him skipping around in joy.
Yet there was also plenty of perspective. Repeatedly, he found himself looking over his shoulder after yet another clubbing. Such is life for Australia's lone spinner at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. As India's captain MS Dhoni, with a double century inside a day, bludgeoned the hosts into total command, there was nowhere to hide.
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India's Virat Kohli praised the double century by captain MS Dhoni on day three of the first Test against Australia in Chennai on Sunday.
Australia had been buoyant when Lyon ruined Tendulkar's day in the morning but by the afternoon were feeling the heat as the match was slogged, not just slipped, away from them. The tension surfaced with a verbal altercation between Harbajan Singh and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade after tea that required Michael Clarke to play mediator. India were winning the real contest though, with Dhoni careering them into an advantage that by stumps, at 8-515, stretched to 135.
His brutal 206 not out – and Kohli’s splendid 107 – more than made up for the masses’ disappointment at being denied a Tendulkar hundred. Under the weight of a nation over their steep decline in the longest format, Dhoni is back in the good books, for now at least.
The 31-year-old supposedly prefers the smash-and-grab of the one-day game and the Indian Premier League, where he makes a fortune every year on this very ground with the Chennai Super Kings. The world’s highest-earning cricketer is apparently indifferent to Tests. This is meant to be his pre-season – for the IPL.
That hypothesis might need to be revisited after his match-turning sixth Test century, the highest score of the wicketkeeper-batsman’s career. It included 22 fours and five sixes and Lyon, although not alone, was squarely in Dhoni’s sights. In the final hour he intensified the carnage even further, belting Lyon for two sixes in one over and showing only slightly less mild disdain for Australia’s other bowlers.
Lyon finished the day 3-182, the gloss taken off earlier triumphs as his bowling figures rose at about the same rate as the runs from Dhoni’s bat.
“I hope he doesn't lose any hope,” said Wade, who insisted Australia were not out of the game despite a thoroughly demoralising day. “We certainly haven't lost any confidence in Nathan. He bowled well at times and he got hit for a few runs at times.
"Unfortunately that's bowling to good players in their conditions. He can take (a lot) out of that…he's learnt a lot and he can come back bigger and stronger in the next innings and win the game for us.
If we can get a big enough lead, we need him to really spin the ball big and take a few wickets for us.”
There was, earlier, some cause for celebration amid the carnage. Lyon’s dismissal of Tendulkar for 81 was the second time he has undone Test cricket’s greatest accumulator and the first time an Australian spinner had ever bowled the legendary batsman. Even Shane Warne only conquered the Little Master three times – and never by clattering into his stumps.
It was a scene Lyon might have day-dreamed about while churning across Adelaide Oval on a lawnmower. Seductive drift, a sharp off-break from red soil rough, a pair of scattered bails, and the vanquished figure of Tendulkar trudging out of a silent stadium, 19 balls short of three figures.
Huge crowds had turned up in anticipation of Tendulkar’s long-awaited 52nd Test century. Tens of thousands could not get in while he was in the middle. The queue remained hundreds of metres long when play began.
When Lyon snared Tendulkar, having progressed only 10 runs from his overnight score, the ground fell momentarily void of previously furious noise. The hopeful were not going to see a triumphant last hurrah in Chennai after all, not on Sunday anyway, and some immediately packed up their flags and left.
The majority that remained, however, got their rupees’ worth via the unrelenting Dhoni. Lyon, caught in this cyclone, was collateral damage, his other wickets – that of Kohli and Ravi Ashwin – a quickly fading memory.
Left-armer Mitchell Starc also endured a forgettable day but Australia’s day-two star, James Pattinson, claimed a fourth wicket of the innings when Ravindra Jadeja left a ball that clattered into his off stump. after bowling only six overs on Saturday the Victorian paceman was used much more frequently.