Nagpur: Virat Kohli slammed a patient century while captain Mahendra Singh missed it by just one run as the duo showed admirable tenacity under pressure to lead a remarkable Indian fightback which has restored the balance in the fourth and final cricket Test against England here on Saturday.
Resuming at a precarious 87 for 4 in response to England`s first innings total of 330, Kohli (103) and Dhoni (99) played with great discipline and curbed their natural strokeplay on a slow track as the hosts reached 297 for eight at close on the third day which was dominated by the home team.
R Ashwin was batting on seven when play was called off after Piyush Chawla`s dismissal, with India still trailing by 33 runs.
The young Kohli, who has been woefully out of form in the series, notched up his third Test century while Dhoni also silenced his detractors as the pair added 198 runs for the fifth wicket to bring India back into the game.
The Indians, who desperately need to win the match to level the four-match series 2-2, put up a good fightback through Dhoni and Kohli in a partnership which lasted for 84.3 overs. Both of them played their longest Test match knock in terms of balls faced.
It was an uncharacteristically subdued knock by Dhoni who consumed as many as 246 balls before being tragically run out for 99 much to the dismay of the vociferous crowd at the VCA stadium.
Dhoni has been under tremendous pressure after the back-to-back defeats in Mumbai and Kolkata and he showed great character to rise to the occasion with his resolute effort in difficult batting conditions to bail the team out of trouble.
With two days left in the game, India will seek to take a decent first innings lead and put pressure on England who need only a draw to record their first series triumph on Indian soul in 28 years.
Spinner Graeme Swann broke the marathon partnership when he trapped Kohli leg before while debutant Ravindra Jadeja (12) and Chawla (1) fell soon after to peg India back a little bit by the end of the day.
Kolhi faced 295 balls and his third Test ton in 14 games was laced with 11 fours, while Dhoni came up with a captain’s rearguard knock that was inclusive of eight fours and a six and during which he faced 246 balls.
Kohli completed his hundred with a square cut for four off Swann and then jumped up in joy to be applauded warmly by the crowd in excess of 20,000 before he was trapped leg before by the England off spinner in the first over after the drinks break.
The departure of Kohli was followed soon by that of debutant Jadeja who was trapped leg before James Anderson, the wrecker-in-chief yesterday with a three-wicket haul, with a ball that jagged back sharply into the left hander when the floodlights were on.
Dhoni, 98 at the fall of Jadeja's wicket, lost his wicket in his eagerness to get to his sixth Test ton. He drove Anderson to mid off but just failed to beat counterpart Alastair Cook's accurate throw to the non-striker’s end.
The run-out was referred to the TV umpire who ruled that Dhoni was out though it was a close call.
India lost next batsman Piyush Chawla too, Swann clean bowling the batsman for his third wicket to bring down curtains to a dramatic last hour’s play in which India surrendered the initiative to the visitors to some extent.
At close, Ashwin was on 7 after a stay of 29 minutes but with only Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha to come, the home side may not be able to take the lead.
Kohli’s third century was an apt response to the 24-year-old Delhi youngster’s critics who questioned his commitment after he had thrown away his wicket earlier in the series which saw him muster 19 and 14 in the series opener at Ahmedabad, 19 and 7 at Mumbai and 6 and 20 in the previous game at Kolkata.
Showing grit and enormous patience in the face of adversity and mounting criticism of the team’s efforts in the series, he and the Indian skipper dug in with determination to frustrate the England bowlers for five hours before Kohli departed after a determined stay of four minutes under six hours.