By Bharath Ramaraj
For any sub-continental batsman, playing in South African conditions can turn out to be a stern test. Most of them just flop miserably when confronted with playing on tracks that offer true pace and bounce. However, India‘s young-gun and swashbuckling middle-order batsman, Virat Kohli wielded the willow with a volley of thunderous strokes to blaze his way to his first Test hundred in the Rainbow Nation and that too in his very first Test in that country. The luminous lustre of Kohli’s sublime batsmanship at the Wanderers in Johannesburg lifted the sagging spirits of the Indian team.
To bat in alien conditions requires more than just pure skill. It requires that unbridled passion and willpower to stand up to the might of a battery of South African pacers who hunt like a pack of hungry wolves to send a set of batsmen back to the pavilion like an army of sheep.
Actually, the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, with venomous pace and movement gave plenty to think about for Kohli during his stay at the crease. But, he was able to wade through the litmus test with utmost ease. One of the features of his batsmanship was the way he was able to transfer his weight onto his back-foot in a flash to play shots of the highest class. He also took a heavy toll on the leg-spinner Imran Thair‘s bowling. He displayed a sign of a matured cricketer as he was able to spot the weak link in the South African set-up. But Kohli’s dismissive debonair pull shot of South African spearhead Steyn gave an inkling as how quickly he was picking the length. In short, he has charted his own destiny by believing in his ability and standing up to a formidable line-up.
In fact, that has been the main difference between Kohli and other batsmen in the Indian setup. While especially Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan looked to plonk his front-foot forward to virtually every ball he faced, and paid a heavy price by getting out early, Kohli with poise and fluid balance was able to transfer his weight both onto the front-foot and the back-foot quite well. It is a well-known fact that once a batsman gets adjusted to the extra pace and bounce on offer, runs will flow from the willow like a gigantic river on such wickets. The key is to spend a little bit of time at the wicket to gauge the conditions, before playing your shots.
More than two decades ago, a 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar had shored the Indian batting line-up at the Wanderers with his masterful hundred against a rampant South African attack consisting of fiery pacemen like Allan Donald and Brian McMillan as well as the metronomic Craig Mathews. It turned out to be his first century in South Africa. It is a mere co-incidence that Kohli who is trying to fill into the big man’s shoes by batting at the No 4 slot has essayed his first hundred in the Rainbow Nation at the same ground.
What is more important to note is Kohli’s last few innings in away Test matches. He started off with 44 and 75 in Perth against Australia. He then followed that up with 116 in Adelaide. This was also his first century in Tests. Now, his 119 shows that he has what it takes to score the runs in alien conditions and also take the attack to the opposition bowlers. From India’s perspective, his hundred at the Wanderers hopefully will be a kick-start for bigger things to come from the Delhi dasher — Virat Kohli.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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