India 255-5 (Kohli 119) v South Africa
First Test, Johannesburg, day one
Virat Kohli’s fifth Test hundred gave direction to India's first innings, guiding them to 255 for five at stumps on day one in the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.
The Indian vice-captain, who became the batting order's new number four after Sachin Tendulkar, played out a controlled, yet superb, innings at the Wanderers stadium, scoring 119 off 181 balls (18 fours), to place his side in a stable position at close of play.
Kohli reached his hundred off 140 balls, in the 63rd over, bowled by JP Duminy, inclusive of 16 fours. It was an innings of composure, even as wickets fell around him earlier, when Cheteshwar Pujara (25, 98 balls, two fours) was run out and then Rohit Sharma (14 runs, 42 balls, one four) played a lazy shot to give away his wicket.
After his dismissal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in, and negated the second new ball taken immediately when due by the Proteas, putting up 36 runs with Rahane for the sixth wicket, taking India past the 250-run mark in the 85th over.
The Indian captain finished on 17 not out 46 off balls (three fours), while Rahane was unbeaten on 43 off 105 balls (seven fours) at the other end.
For South Africa, Morne Morkel (1-27) and Dale Steyn (1-38) were the pick of the South African attack, with Vernon Philander (1-45) and Jacques Kallis (1-37) pitching in, doing enough damage to share the honours on the opening day of the series.
Kohli was given ample support in the final session of the day by Rahane, who playing his second Test didn’t want to waste this chance.
In good batting conditions, the two were watchful in the first hour after tea, not wanting to lose any more wickets. There were a couple of played and missed chances, particularly against Morkel who bowled his heart out with only a solitary wicket to show.
Kohli's big moment came after a string of four maiden overs, when skipper Graeme Smith deployed Duminy (0-30) in a bid to get the over-rate up. A flick to mid-wicket and Kohli sped off for two, celebrating in style, pumped - for this hundred meant a lot to him.
In fact it meant a lot to the entire Indian cricket fraternity, since he was taking over from Tendulkar at number four and at the same time was negating the doubts that had crept in since the start of this tour.
After reaching his century, Kohli slowed down, playing for time. Rahane, though, kept up the tempo and together they brought up their 50-run partnership in the 71st over. Kohli crossed his highest Test score two overs later, when on 117 runs, beating the 116-run mark he had set in Australia (2011-12).
India took drinks at 213 for four and perhaps it was this break that caused the centurion to lose focus, for he was out caught by Duminy, playing a loose drive off Kallis. He looked tired after a mammoth effort off 181 balls, walking off to cheers from the sparse crowd and indeed from the Indian dressing room.
Earlier, India had started after lunch on 70 for two with Kohli rebuilding the innings with Pujara. They brought up their 50-run partnership in the 30th over, looking comfortable while leaving the ball and attacking with great caution.
Kohli scored at a quick clip, attacking Imran Tahir. It seemed like a specific plan, as he gave away 47 runs from eight overs, negating Smith’s bowling options as South Africa fell behind the over-rate.
In Tahir’s second over of the day, the 39th of the innings, Kohli completed his half-century. He reached the mark off 76 balls with nine boundaries in all. Together with Pujara, he helped India cross the 100-run mark in the 40th over, a comfortable 101 for two the score. But 12 runs later, Kohli called for a non-existent run that led to Pujara’s run out.
At 113 for three, Rohit Sharma joined Kohli, bringing up the 150 in the 43rd over. They quickly put on 38 runs for the fourth wicket, before the latter fell two overs before tea.
Sharma was out driving off Philander, with the ball moving away just a touch. Rahane was in next, and he took India to tea at 164 for four with Kohli unbeaten on 84.
In the morning session, India won the toss and skipper Dhoni opted to bat first, on what looked like a good track to take strike, once the new ball was taken care of. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan took strike against Steyn and Philander, spending an uncomfortable morning in the middle.
The action began properly in the 9th over, as Steyn dished out some short stuff to Dhawan. The third ball of the over looped from Dhawan’s bat as he played a half-hearted pull and it went for four runs. The fourth ball, also short, went off his bat's handle and fell short of gully.
The fifth ball, again short, went down legside and the batsman made an attempt to play at it. And then finally on the last ball of the over, Dhawan was out caught fine leg by Imran Tahir, pulling a short ball again, out for 13 runs (27 balls, two fours).
Meanwhile at the other end, Morkel continued to trouble to Vijay. He had no clue about his bowling before the drinks break and immediately afterwards, edged one to the keeper, out for six runs (42 balls, one four).
The cameras turned to the Indian dressing room and Virat Kohli walked in to bat at number four, opening a new page in the annals of Indian cricket in this post-Tendulkar era. His first scoring shot was a beautiful pull shot for four to square leg off Kallis in the 19th over.
His second boundary was a little streaky, playing one from Morkel, unsure whether to leave or play and edging one that carried to third man for four.
Pujara, in this interim, was a little more secure and brought up India’s fifty in the 25th over, with a push to the covers, running for a quick single.
He hit two boundaries, the first a delightful cut to point while the second one was cut over the slip cordon as skipper Smith had just taken off third man. At lunch, he was unbeaten on 18 off 61 balls, hitting two fours.
At the other end, Kohli struck two boundaries off the last over before lunch from Tahir, pulling him for two fours and setting the tone for the post-lunch session, finishing on run-a-ball 32 not out, inclusive of five fours.
India had made three changes from their last Test against West Indies in Mumbai, bringing in Rahane for the retired Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma for Pragyan Ojha.
South Africa made just one change from their last eleven that played against Pakistan, with Hashim Amla coming back in place of Dean Elgar.
© Cricket World 2013