Having danced down and tonked New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi to cow corner for a six, an elated Shikhar Dhawan took off his helmet, put it on the ground and looked skywards with folded hands. He was then beginning to proceed to the second of his two-part celebration ritual after reaching a hundred — to spread his arms like the Vitruvian Man and acknowledge the crowd — when Virat Kohli stopped him in between and pointed towards the giant screen. Dhawan realised the mistake. He had miscalculated. The shot had taken him to 99.
The Delhi left-hander’s eagerness to celebrate, which saw him getting a bit ahead of himself, was understandable. He has had such a torrid time with bat in the past two months, averaging just above 15 across formats since South Africa, that it resulted in him getting dropped from the One-day team for a game recently. He did complete the deserved ton, his second since the 187 on debut against Australia, and the celebration, with a cut off Sodhi’s next ball. In the process, he became only the second Indian opener to have hit a fourth innings hundred. Sunil Gavaskar, who was watching from the commentary box, was the first one and had pulled off the feat four times. Of those occasions, India went on to lose the game once, against Australia at Perth in 1977.
By the end of the fourth day of the first Test at Auckland on Sunday, the batting great would have Dhawan’s company in that regard too, as India, after being in a seemingly commanding position at one stage in the afternoon — 222 for two while chasing 407 — went on to lose the match by 40 runs.
Overnight 87 for one, India lost Cheteshwar Pujara early with the batsman nicking Tim Southee behind the wicket. But Dhawan and Kohli consolidated the chase with a confident 126-run partnership to take the score to double nelson. At which point, Neil Wagner, who has made it a knack of giving the team crucial breakthroughs, struck. The left-armer dug in one short and rather slow. It was going wide of the off-stump but Kohli still decided to flash his bat. It grazed the toe of his bat and settled into wicket-keeper BJ Watling’s gloves. Kohli made 67.
With the wicket, something clicked within Wagner. There is a mongrel in him, and it was unleashed. He ran in hard and bowled with relentless aggression. The ball that removed Dhawan was a vicious bouncer that grew big on the batsman before he could even realised. Dhawan and no other option but to hop and fend it off to the wicketkeeper.
India, as a result, continued…