When Virat Kohli walked on to the field at Willomoore Park here on Saturday, a couple of fans walked up to him, requesting to be photographed together. He obliged.
Virat may still be the star of this struggling India team, with his aggressive attitude and Mohawk, but the number of fans clinging to him or to the team here seems to be dwindling.
When Virat landed in South Africa, he carried a huge reputation, especially in ODIs. This tour was expected to establish him as a Test batsman and his success in the one-dayers was a given. He averaged over 51, having scored 17 centuries before turning 25.
But two ODIs later, that reputation has suffered a dent.
Rubbing it in
The local TV broadcaster rubbed it in during the third ODI at Centurion by repeatedly showing his struggle against short-pitched deliveries in the first game at Wanderers and the batsman taking a hit on his ribcage trying to pull Morne Morkel. It was a cruel indictment of a player anointed as a future great.
Former South Africa players like Kepler Wessels want to wait till the end of the series to judge the quality of India's young batsmen like Virat. That could also mean they are still not convinced about Virat's ability to play against all sorts of bowling in tough conditions.
Wessels has a point. Virat, though he looked better than others, expressed helplessness against Dale Steyn. "You can't do much when the bowler is swinging the ball at that pace from middle to outside off." He made 31 in the first ODI but pressure told on him in the second and he was out to left-arm Lonwabo Tsotsobe, a far less threatening bowler. Already established in the line-up, Virat is supposed to play the role of a senior, and he knows that well. When Rohit Sharma was struggling to put bat to ball at the Wanderers, Virat went up to him and asked him not to play any rash shot. Virat, though, tried to disturb Steyn's rhythm, although it didn't work.
The Bigger Test
A bigger challenge awaits him in the Tests. This ODI side has been playing without the experience of Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Tendulkar for some time, but it will be the first time they'll play a Test without any of them. Thus Virat's role becomes significant.
Unfortunely, he is also not sure of his batting spot in the Test side.
The norm is to have your best batsmen in at No. 3 and No. 4. Before New Zealand's visit to India in late 2012, he got ready to bat at No. 3 but that spot has been cemented by Cheteshwar Pujara.
Then, he was expected to take Tendulkar's spot, but Rohit Sharma seems to have reduced that chance to 50-50.
"It is important to have fixed slots and the top four holding their positions. You have to go according to the plan," Virat says.
With India's batting showing frailty against pace and bounce, it'll be interesting to see where they use Virat, who can be aggressive and give it back to the Proteas. "We need to have mental strength to deal with that," he says. How exactly does he do that will be seen over the next one week.