Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

It is not often that the thing of beauty that captivates you at Newlands is not Table Mountain.

On the first day of the series decider, Virat Kohli played an innings of such visceral beauty and class that you could not take your eyes off him while he was at the crease.

The openers gone too soon, Kohli was out in the middle with dense, fluffy clouds sitting gently on the top of Table Mountain, like cotton candy. But there was nothing sweet about what Kohli was about to receive.

The ball was doing plenty on a pitch with decent pace and good carry. There was movement in the air and off the seam, and Duanne Olivier was making the most of it.

The real threat, however, was Kagiso Rabada. Unlike in previous innings in this series, Rabada did not need any warming up. He was right on the money from the word go.

But, as good as Rabada was, Kohli was better. As intelligent and persistent as Rabada was, Kohli was mentally stronger.

Before the start of the Test, Kohli had said that he was at peace with how he was batting. The problem was, the vast majority of Indian cricket fans were not, simply because the runs had not come. Also, because Kohli was getting himself out after getting set.

On the day, Kohli channelled Sachin Tendulkar from Sydney in 2003. He flatly declined all invitations to reach for the ball outside the off stump.

Kohli’s act, the batting equivalent of sitting in dharna, with no negotiation possible, forced the bowlers to come at him and attack the stumps.

When they did so there was a geometric precision to Kohli’s strokes.

Kohli allowed the ball to come to him, set himself up with a steady base, feet leading his hands and head still. But the icing on the cake was that he played the ball right under his nose, and each time he made clean contact, the ball whistled through the off side, all along the turf.

This was not so much out of the coaching manual as batting perfection. But, the fact that Kohli had the technique was never in doubt.

What was startling is that Kohli took 158 balls to get to his half-century, his second slowest effort. Equally, 50% of those deliveries had been left alone.

A man who has all the shots in the book rarely defines an innings by choosing, wisely, not to play any of them, unless he was absolutely sure there was no risk involved.

When he was finally dismissed, it was not so much because Kohli had tired — after being at the cease a shade more than four and a half hours — or because he had a lapse in concentration.

Rather, he was running out of partners so quickly that he had to try and force the pace a touch.

This too was an act of selflessness. After going so long without a century, Kohli could have settled for being unbeaten, but, instead, he put the needs of the team front and centre.

In the end, Kohli made 79, having faced 201 balls and had scored off only 34 of those balls.

That India only ended on 223, after an innings of such class showed how the others had simply not been able to lift themselves as their captain had.

If Kohli deserved a century, Rabada deserved one more scalp to take his 4 for 73 to a milestone in his 50th Test.

But, then again, sport is not about what you deserve, it is about what you do with what you get. And to this end, you could not fault Kohli.

India 223 (Kohli 79, Pujara 43, Pant 27; Rabada 4/73, Jansen 3/55) lead South Africa 17/1 (Markram 8*, Maharaj 6*; Bumrah 1/0) by 206 runs

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By tilu858

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