Captain’s heroic stand puts India back in game — and critics out of it for now

For a few prolonged moments, the VCA Stadium was silent like a funeral. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had just been run out by a coat of varnish on 99. But to his ears, the silence must have been pleasant, loud enough to drown out the cacophony of his many critics.

The Indian captain may not have brought up his sixth ton in Test cricket, but that mattered little. The only statistic that begged for attention on Saturday was the number of balls he had faced in his innings — 246. In a career spanning seven years and 73 Tests, this was the first ever time that he had crossed the 200-ball threshold.

By consuming everything thrown at him, and by nearly batting out an entire day's play with Virat Kohli, Dhoni heaved his side out of the pits, putting India — which seemed to have thrown in the towel on the previous day — on par with England by stumps on Day Three. Dhoni's epic ended at the fall of dusk, but his side will begin on a sunny Sunday morning just 33 runs short of England's first innings total. For both the team and the individual, it could not have come at a better time. Leading up to the Nagpur Test, it wasn't easy being the Indian captain. With India trailing the series 2-1 and just one Test to go, the knives were out for his blood. "What has he done to deserve a place in the side?" asked Mohinder Amarnath, "We wanted to sack him in January."

To make matter worse, India's top-order showed little guts in a must-win match — ending the second day on 81 for four. With Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman, crisis players used to saving India from such situations, having retired, few gave the lower middle-order much chance. Then Dhoni decided to promote himself up the order.

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