When Murali Vijay nicked one behind off Morne Morkel, it seemed like another Indian batting collapse was on its way. At 24 for 2, in walked Virat Kohli, the man touted to be the next Tendulkar. What followed thereafter was a terrific century which not only kept India on an even kneel at the end of day one, but also showed the why Virat Kohli stands out amongst the rest in this much revered Indian batting lineup.
Before the South Africa tour began, there was a lot of talk in the media about how the two Test series would be a litmus test for the young Indian batting linuep. With hostile conditions and an even hostile bowling attack to deal with, Indian batsmen were in for a real challenge, unlike all those they had faced for the last year and a half on flat tracks back home.
Soon after MS Dhoni chose to bat on a relatively slowish pitch that had an even covering of grass, India found themselves in a spot of bother at 24 for two. Virat Kohli walked out to bat, and along with Cheteshwar Pujara, began to put Indian back on track.
Kohli looked unflustered from ball one. As Dale Steyn and co kept chipping away around the off stump region, Kohli kept leaving deliveries confidently. He curbed his natural aggressive instinct and avoided poking his bat at the good deliveries, even if that meant that the scoring rate remained below three. He didn’t offer a shot to first 16 out of the 28 deliveries he faced. Out of the 181 deliveries Kohli faced, he left 61 of them.
One key to batting in overseas conditions is the ability to put away the loose deliveries whenever they are on offer, which is also what made Dravid and Tendulkar stand out. Kohli did that brilliantly. It didn’t matter to Kohli if it was Steyn, Morkel or Philander. If the ball was in his area, Kohli was ready to put it away. It was a game of chess out there between Kohli and the South African bowlers. It was about who lost his patience first, and for most parts of the day, it was the South African bowlers, who bowled one short outside off stump or on the pads every once in a while, and allowed Kohli to release the pressure.
Kohli was particularly severe on Imran Tahir. Whenever Tahir pitched one short, Kohli was quick to rock back and pulled it away, even if it was the last over before lunch. Another aspect of Kohli which stood out was his foot work. While M Vijay and Rohit Sharma got out offering little footwork, Kohli looked assured. He was quick to judge the length - which essential to scoring runs in South Africa - and was either completely front or back. Whenever Philander provided width outside off, Kohli was quick to go on the backfoot and cut it away for a four. His authoritative pull of Steyn was a fine demonstration of Kohli’s quick judgment of the length of a delivery. Kohli didn’t get too many short deliveries after that shot.
Kohli hit 18 boundaries in total on his way to a chance less 119. Barring the over of Kallis where Kohli lost his concentration and eventually his wicket, there was hardly any glitch in his innings. South Africa’s bowling coach Alan Donald said in the press-conference that Kohli showed great discipline and responsibility and reminded him of Sachin Tendulkar of India’s 1996 tour of South Africa.
Kohli’s hundred not only showed that India can compete in South Africa, but also proved that this Indian batting sensation isn’t a flat track bully. Scoring a ton in South Africa isn’t a mean achievement, something which even VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly didn’t achieve during their careers. Kohli has done this in his first Test in the Rainbow nation, and his century celebration showed what this hundred meant to him personally.
India still has a long way to go in this Test match. But this innings by Kohlii will go a long way to prove that India’s number four spot in Tests is in very safe hands.