The thwack off the bat was audible around the Wanderers,the sound magnified especially at the Corlett Drive end thanks to the Bullring-like setup. The ball had already hit the fence at the deep square-leg fence by the time Steyn had finished his follow through. Not surprisingly,the South African pacer had plenty to say. But all Kohli responded with was a wry smile. He didnt have to say much. The pull shot had done the talking for him. Next over,Steyn was taken off the attack.
On what could well be defined as his finest hour as a Test batsman,the 25-year-old played many shots,some delicate but mostly authoritative and imperious. He had in fact executed a similarly commanding pull off Jacques Kallis to open his account a while earlier. But it was this particular one off Steyn,which took him to 41,that really set the tone.
Eventually,Kohlis fifth Test century,and his most memorable one to date,ended up guiding India to 255/5 after Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and took the bold decision to bat first.
It was into a cauldron that Kohli had walked into with Morne Morkel breathing fire. The score was reading 24/2 and the openers,Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay,had been set up by short-pitched deliveries. The prophecy was almost coming true. India were being made to look susceptible with the going at its toughest.
Kohli didnt start off too convincingly. Morkel was in the middle of a spell similar to the one that he had welcomed India with in Centurion last time around. Kohli was more than happy to see him off. He shouldered arms to 11 off the first 24 deliveries bowled to him. Then came a nasty bouncer from Morkel. A streaky boundary resulted as the ball took the splice of his hanging bat and flew towards third-man. The next ball hit his inside edge and just missed his leg-stump. He was also beaten once by Steyn as the pacer went wide off the crease and got the ball to straighten off the angle. But Kohli was undeterred. Next ball,he moved into the line and tucked away for a boundary.
Then on came Imran Tahir. For Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara at the other end,it was like going from the frying pan into an air-conditioned suite. Kohli made the most of it,smashing the two half-trackers from Tahir for boundaries,going into lunch on 32 off the same number of deliveries.
After the break,he left 12 of the first 17 deliveries he faced. There were also two boundaries,one a cut shot off Philander followed by a square-drive off Morkel,as soon as the lanky pacer offered Kohli some width.
By the time Steyn returned to the attack following the pull-shot,Kohli was in command. A half-volley was dispatched for four before he straight drove Kallis. By now,the comparisons with the man he had replaced at No.4 had commenced inevitably.
As the pacers tired,the short-pitched bowling got wilder with each one of them spraying the ball down the legs and well over the batsmans heads. Kohli kept at it,following the diktat of putting the loose ball away to the core. He scored 50 off just 38 balls,including eight of his 18 boundaries,against the freebies on offer from Tahir and JP Duminy. Kohlis game-plan stayed the same though against the pacers. Leave the good ones and attack the rest.
Finding his feet
There were 27 leaves off the next 60 deliveries he faced. During the same time,Kohli had also scored 40 runs. By now,it was Kohli who was dictating terms. His footwork was assertive,his judgement of length precise. And his strokes delectable. There was a cover drive off Tahir,a cut off Philander and another pull off Kallis. The runs just kept coming. And when he pushed Duminy for a brace through mid-wicket,the celebration was manic.
It was boisterous. It was Kohli-like. But with an added sense of gusto. For once,you couldnt have denied him that even if it was a tad over-the-top. Thrice he brandished his bat towards the dressing-room,who acknowledged what hed just achieved with delight. And they were on their feet again as Kohli eventually perished to a soft dismissal. Having walked in with his teams morale in disarray,Kohli had not only scored 119 off his teams next 195 runs,he had also given them the belief that they could after all compete against South Africa in their backyard.
Its the best I have batted in Test cricket
Express News Service
Before Wednesday,Virat Kohli was the only player in the Indian squad to have scored a century outside the subcontinent. That record stood at the end of Day One,with Kohli doubling his tally. Later,Kohli called it his finest knock. Excerpts from the post match press conference.
On batting at No. 4
It is something that I badly wanted to do in Test cricket,because I am so used to going in at number three in ODIs. I like to be in the action early on,get in while conditions are tough and then dictate terms to the bowling. I knew once Sachin retired,I would get the chance to bat at number four. It is a big challenge considering that he has done so much for the team at this spot. But I wasnt thinking about it,just wanted to score runs.
On being branded soft
Apparently,I was described as soft after the first ODI. They are quality bowlers,good enough to play at this level,but so are you. So I was prepared and was watching the ball closely. I got into position early and played some pull strokes,and after that they started bowling at the fifth or sixth stump. So I dont know where their bodyline tactic went.
On the Pujara runout
We made some mistakes in the day. And then there was the run-out,but obviously incidents do happen in cricket. It was unfortunate that Cheteshwar got run-out. It was a good partnership building up,but it was also important for me to carry on at that time. Sometimes it isnt easy to do so in such situations but I maintained my focus. I knew I had to bat on and double my score for the team to be in a strong position.
On the century
Getting the hundred was an amazing feeling. I havent got runs in South Africa,so I wanted to get a Test hundred here. It is funny because even in the Australia ODI series or West Indies series after that,I wasnt focussing on those matches. All my training sessions were about scoring a Test hundred here. It is the best I have batted in Test cricket.
On the match situation
Given that we havent had much practice,it was very pleasing. We could have lost one less wicket which would have got us 30 more runs,taking us to 280 for 4… But we are very happy with 255/5. It is about building tomorrow and hopefully we can get to 350-360 because then South Africa will have to get 500-plus to put pressure on us.