x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Virat Kohli shows India are in South Africa ‘to compete’

India's new No 4 makes big statement with a brisk century as tourists end Day 1 of first Test against South Africa on 255 for five. Anand Vasu reports from Johannesburg.

Virat Kohli is ecstatic after scoring a Test century on South African soil, calling Wednesday’s knock his best. Duif du Toit / Gallo Images / Getty Images
Virat Kohli is ecstatic after scoring a Test century on South African soil, calling Wednesday’s knock his best. Duif du Toit / Gallo Images / Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG // When India won the World Cup in 2011, Sachin Tendulkar was carried around his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, in Mumbai. Virat Kohli, doing a quick interview on the field, produced a gem.

“He has carried the burden of our nation on his shoulders for the past 21 years. So it is time that we carried him,” he said not long after hoisting his idol onto his shoulders.

At the Wanderers on Wednesday, on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa, Kohli slotted into Tendulkar’s celebrated No 4 position with a century of the highest class. On the back of Kohli’s effort, India reached 255 for five, very acceptable returns given the circumstances.

When Kohli walked out to bat, India were precariously poised. Shikhar Dhawan had top-edged, pulling a ball that was onto him much too quickly for the shot, and Murali Vijay nicked to the wicketkeeper, having played only two scoring shots in the 42 balls he faced. At 24 for two, there was an unmistakable sense of deja vu. But, before you could say here we go again, Kohli was off the blocks.

While the batsmen before him struggled to score at 2.5 runs an over, Kohli went at a run-a-ball rate, picking off the singles with ease and producing some gorgeous shots when the loose ball was on offer.

The control he displayed when pulling Jacques Kallis off the front foot, and the balance he used when covering the swing and driving a full ball from Dale Steyn back past the bowler, were confirmation – if any were needed – that this was a rare talent at the top of his game.

Needless to say, he was pleased with his performance.

“I was prepared and I was watching the ball closely. I was getting into position whenever they put in extra effort,” said Kohli, 25.

“Later, they started bowling at the fifth or sixth stump, so I don’t know where that bodyline bowling went. It’s all about dictating terms when you bat, you can’t always play under pressure. We’ve let them know we are here to compete. We’ve shown we have learnt from mistakes.”

Kohli showed just how important making runs in South Africa was, and said that it was all he had thought about, even when playing other opposition at home.

“It’s funny, because even during the ODIs against Australia [in October-November], I was thinking about getting a Test hundred in South Africa. That was all that was on my mind,” Kohli said.

“I wasn’t even focusing on those ODIs or any other games we played against West Indies [last month]. Every training session we had, I was motivating myself to do something like this. Because I know how special it has been for players to get a hundred in South Africa. That was probably the best I have batted in Test cricket till now.”

Kohli, who is smart enough to realise that he may be batting in Sachin Tendulkar’s position but will not be filling those boots any time soon, said that it was not about replacing the retired legend, but about getting a chance in a key line-up position.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to bat up the order. It’s something that I badly wanted to do in Test cricket,” Kohli said. “I’m so used to going in at No 3 in ODIs. I like to be in the action early on and then dictate terms.”

If Kohli opened the eyes of the South African public to a genuine talent, he also earned the respect of the opposition. Allan Donald, South Africa’s bowling coach and a man who has been involved in some ferocious battles with the best batsmen in the game, was effusive in his praise for Kohli.

“I think he showed great discipline and responsibility,” Donald said. “It reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar when they came here in 1996. I was the first one to say back in 1996 that India didn’t show much bottle and that one person jumps out and plays the situation, plays for his team.

“That was Tendulkar. That’s what came to my mind when I saw Kohli batting.”

Anand Vasu is managing editor at Wisden India