Virat Kohli stepped into Sachin Tendulkar’s role at No 4 with an amazing 119 on Day One of the First Test at Johannesburg. In 1992, Tendulkar too hit a ton batting at No 4 at Johannesburg. In conversation with former South African fast bowler Brett Schultz, Nishad Pai Vaidya goes down memory lane to Tendulkar’s first tour of South Africa and reflects on Kohli’s latest knock.
Turn your clock back to 1992. A teenaged Sachin Tendulkar was promoted to the No 4 spot after a few inspiring performances in the lower order. The youngster immediately established himself with scintillating knocks such as the ton on the fast surface at Perth, and another century at Johannesburg a few months later. Twenty-one years down the line, Virat Kohli filled into his big shoes and announced the arrival of the new era in style with a ton in his first innings at No 4. The 119 he managed on Day One of the first Test against South Africa at Johannesburg would be remembered for long and would stand out as a career highlight.
Back in 1992, Tendulkar was this fearless teenarger when he toured South Africa. As a youngster, he was discovering new territories and adding more dimensions to his batting. Brett Schultz, the former South African fast-bowler, who made his debut during that tour, told CricketCountry, “Sachin was very new on the Test scene, as were we as a country. But he stood out as a player who could play on all pitches.”
Tendulkar’s remarkable ability had stunned everyone as he showed that he could adjust to all conditions. At one of the world’s supposed fastest surface — Perth, he had smashed a ton to show what he was made of. And once he arrived in South Africa, it just continued with 111 in the second Test at Johannesburg. Schultz missed that Test at the Wanderers but recalls the young Tendulkar’s game on that tour, “His feet movement was what made him different. He was able to play back and forward with ease, and adapted to the extra bounce. He proved this over his career, but back then we saw the potential which was about to explode onto the international scene — as one of the greatest players of all time. He was able to dominate on one of our quickest and bounciest wickets.”
Coming back to the present day, Kohli impressed with his remarkable adjustment to the pace. He had come under severe fire during the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and was itching to perform well. The most remarkable thing about his innings was the way he played the short delivery. He pulled it with great control and rolled his wrists over to keep the ball down. There were occasions when he pulled a few deliveries in front of square — something which showed that he was seeing the ball very early.
It wasn’t only the way he attacked deliveries, but also the way in which he let them go that showed he was ready for the game. Schultz said, “Kohli has set a platform for himself to be a dominant force in world cricket. The wicket looked quick and bouncy. He was able to leave balls on length and hit the bad balls for boundaries — which means his feet where not stuck in the crease due to the bounce.”
So this innings must mean a lot to Kohli, given the fact that he has just stepped into the spot left vacant by Tendulkar. It also came against the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander — arguably the best pace-attack in the world — in their own den. “Playing well at the Wanderers means he can play well on most wickets in South Africa and Australia,” opines Schultz.
There was measure and aggression in equal proportion in Kohli’s knock. For a major part of the innings, he moved along at a very good strike-rate and capitalised on every opportunity available. “His feet were moving well with a barrage of short deliveries coming at him, and this allows him to dominate bowling attacks. He not only defended positively, he attacked the bad deliveries and didn’t allow the bowlers to settle, especially the spinners. Leaving well on good bouncy wickets frustrates the seamers and doesn’t allow them to settle into a positive rhythm,” Schultz concluded.
This was touted as a litmus test by many people and Kohli has come out with flying colours. There was everything to suggest that he is ready for bigger challenges that lay ahead, and he has started the long campaign away from home with this amazing innings. Before arriving in South Africa in 1992, Tendulkar had already been to New Zealand and England. Kohli, on the other hand, would travel to those shores after his maiden Test sojourn in the Rainbow Nation. Nevertheless, Johannesburg would hold a special place in both players’ hearts.
The No 4 spot has been sacrosanct for over 21 years. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid could exchange spots as the former would be pushed to No 3 at times. Even in the middle, Laxman and Sourav Ganguly would shuffle. But, rarely did they ask Tendulkar to shift from the No 4 spot for the whole batting line-up revolved around him. Kohli is now in focus and has to establish himself there in the coming months.
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