Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Virat Kohli is tired, finally. He has reached 150, and he hardly celebrates. Just a limp raise of the bat. This is the last over of India's allocation. This is his longest innings in ODI cricket. As it turns out, he is tired only for a couple of balls, and smacks a six and a four to end the innings. This is Kohli's innings, this is Kohli's series, this is Kohli's tour, and this is Kohli's India. Like it or not, question him or not, there is no ambiguity: this is his team, he will run it his way, and he will have no regrets about it.
For if you have regrets, it is not possible to have the kind of tour Kohli has had: he has scored 604 out of India's 1928 runs. As Bhuvneshwar Kumar added 67 with Kohli following a middle-order stumble, you wondered what would have happened if he had not been left out for the second Test. You wondered what might have happened had Ajinkya Rahane played the entire Test series. Not Kohli. He made decisions he felt were best for the team and he moved on; if he keeps revisiting them, he won't be able to bat with the clarity he has displayed through the tour.
When others were losing their heads in Centurion, it was Kohli who held India together and helped them compete. At every careless dismissal, he hit his pad with his bat in frustration, and threw his arms up. In the Johannesburg Test, it was Kohli who began to take the bowlers on and showed India that runs could be scored on that surface. He corrected his mistakes as captain. He was there calming down the chase in Durban, especially after having been involved in Shikhar Dhawan's run-out.
As India slipped in Cape Town, Kohli was there again, making sure he batted through the innings. The innings almost didn't take off. Kohli clearly didn't feel he had edged the ball when given out lbw on nought. The review was more in hope than conviction. If ever there was any doubt as to who the best batsman in the side was, Dhawan recommending a hopeful review cleared it. The pace and the bounce when the pitch was fresh was difficult to adjust to, as Rohit Sharma found out. There were a few inside-edges at the start of Kohli's innings, there were times when he couldn't time the spinners perfectly, but he is so addicted to making runs he found a way.
"Some runs might come on more batting-friendly pitches, but I think with their attack, and the pace and bounce they were getting initially, you had to adjust your game," Kohli said of his innings. "Then the wicket got considerably slower after the 30th over, so you had to again adjust your game, and make sure… with wickets falling also… it was pleasing from the point of view that we want someone to bat through the innings. And I was able to do that today. That feels really good that we could get to 300-plus compared to 275-plus. That is psychologically a big pressure thing for the opposition knowing that we have those two wristspinners as well."
It wasn't easy as wickets kept falling on a pitch that slowed down. This was a time to reassess the target, to go for 300 and not end up with 250 while trying to go for 350. "I was pleased from that point of view that I was able to bat through because I was struggling with a bit of cramp around the 90s. Then wickets kept falling, I decided to hit out, because I thought I might not have enough energy left. Then amazing things can happen when you are thinking team all the time. You can push your body beyond limits that you might not push yourself otherwise. I experienced that today, and that was an amazing feeling."
Kohli had to run 100 out of his 160 runs in the dry heat of Cape Town. He didn't tire. He doesn't tire of scoring runs. He has made that sure with his improved fitness. "I am going to be 30 this year," Kohli said. "I wanted to extend the quality of cricket that you want to play at an older age as well. I want to play this kind of cricket even when I am 34-35. That's why I train so much. Because I am a guy who likes to play with intensity. Once that is gone, I don't know what I am going to do on the field. I try to protect that. I try to train as much as I can. Keep a check on my diet. Those things pay off on days like these.
"When the team needs it, and you stand up, and you are able to pull through. Amazing things happen when you are thinking of the team throughout. As an athlete you crave for days like these. These are the days that give you satisfaction. As a batsman as an India player, I am really happy I was able to contribute to the mood in the change room."
This was a day when Kohli batted with a control rate of under 80%; JP Duminy and Aiden Markram were well over 80. South Africa bowled decently to him, making him flick balls as opposed to his favourite drive. It wasn't a pretty innings. This hasn't been a pretty tour. It was Kohli's innings, this has been Kohli's tour.