Kohli makes a Tendulkar-like ton
India's last two Test hundreds in South Africa, and three out of the last four, all came from No. 4. It was in a way fitting that the latest assertion that they can compete here despite the ODI poor showings, came from their newest No. 4 batsman. In terms of discipline - never mind the Cheteshwar Pujara run-out and his eventual dismissal - Virat Kohli matched Sachin Tendulkar. This is not a comparison between the two batsmen, but this hundred of Kohli was Tendulkar-like in its defence and its calculated stroke-play. Even Allan Donald, who is now South Africa's bowling coach and has had many a contest with Tendulkar in the 1990s, was reminded of Tendulkar.
"The one word that comes to my mind is responsibility," Donald said. "I think he [Kohli] showed great discipline and responsibility. 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 that jumps out and plays for the situation, plays for his team was Tendulkar. That's what came to my mind when I saw Kohli batting - the way he left the ball and when we were slightly off the line he punished the ball. He paced his innings very well. But for me, he was responsible today. He put up his hand today, and showed real fight. He was tight, and didn't give much away until the end."
An amazing statistic about Kohli's innings is that he left alone 61 of the 181 balls he faced, but still went at a strike rate of 66. More instructive was when he left them alone. He didn't offer a shot to 16 of the first 28 balls he faced after which he got a few loose ones and ran away with them. Then came lunch. A new innings began after the interval: he left alone 11 of the first 17 balls bowled to him. Then he got a short and wide delivery from Vernon Philander, and launched into it. In the next over he smack-pulled Dale Steyn and was back in a mood to score runs.
He was confident of his game, knew he didn't have a glaring weakness, read what the bowlers were trying to do, sussed out the pitch and match conditions, and wasn't going to throw a good start away. Taking singles was an important part of India's game today. Yes, M Vijay got caught at one end a bit, but you could see there was a lot of emphasis on not letting South Africa bowl at one batsman for a long time. It possibly resulted in the Pujara run-out - although they were also ball-watching a bit - but that only firmed Kohli's resolve further.
And then there were the shots. Crisp, clean, and loud and clear in the statement they made. The first two were pulls off Jacques Kallis and Steyn. This might have worked with Shikhar Dhawan, but won't with me, Kohli seemed to say. And he was given quite a few short balls, which failed to push him back. Another Tendulkar-like aspect of this innings was that Kohli was right forward when he played the forward defence.
The 18 fours that he hit - only one of them unintended - showed how much he punished the bad balls. It didn't matter if it was Steyn, Morkel or Philander. A loose ball was a loose ball. Steyn bowled a limp short ball, and Kohli dismissed it from his sight, later saying that he didn't remember many short balls bowled at him after that. The next ball Kohli left alone, and Steyn was in his face with verbals. Snarling bowlers is usually a sign that you are doing well. Morkel, who was the best bowler on the day with his steep bounce, was cut away for four when he bowled wide.
Against Imran Tahir and JP Duminy, though, it was open season. Tahir's first ball - he usually bowls the last over before lunch when South Africa are bowling on day one - was only slightly short, and Kohli rocked back to pull him. He added another boundary in that over. Who cares if lunch is around the corner? You are not going to get too many gentle legbreaks in South Africa and when you do, you make most use of them. Off the 27 balls bowled by Tahir, Kohli scored 31, including that trademark extra-cover drive which beat cover by a few feet and sweeper by several.
That century celebration, which Kohli possibly never wanted to end, showed how much this knock meant to him. He later said that even when he was in Australia, he used to think about getting a hundred in South Africa, because the senior players had told him how special it was. To put it in perspective, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly never managed one here. Kohli has done it in his first Test innings in the country.
There is a long way to go for India. Kohli knows he fell at the wrong time, and to a loose shot. He knows Tests in South Africa can turn in minutes because wickets can fall in a heap. One thing has been achieved, though: India know that they can compete. A message Tendulkar used to send across often in the '90s.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo