In August 2012, ahead of New Zealand’s tour of India, Virat Kohli’s preparations at his academy in West Delhi were more for the No. 3 slot. The practice pitch was fresh and the balls being delivered to him were new. It was something he must have expected considering that Rahul Dravid had just retired.
India, however, slotted in Cheteshwar Pujara in the hope of finding an ideal replacement for Dravid. And while Pujara didn’t disappoint, Virat was left to ply his wares deep in the middle order, at No. 5. While there were others who got massive scores, the lack of opportunity to bat up the order in Tests didn’t allow him to score big or as many hundreds, or have as high an average as he has in the one-dayers.
“I have been waiting to come up the order for a long time. It is something I badly wanted to do in Test cricket. I like to get into action early on and dictate terms,” he said after his brilliant century on Wednesday.
Once he got the No. 4 slot, he played an innings that would have made Sachin Tendulkar proud. “These are big shoes to fill, but I was just thinking about the plan I had, not about the bowling or swing or bounce, or the slot. A lot was expected of me, so it is satisfying to block that out and execute the plans.”
The Delhi batsman got the ultimate compliment when South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald compared the knock to that of Tendulkar. “This one reminds me of a knock Sachin played against us in 1996-97. I had said then that India haven’t brought any good batsman to face us, but Sachin produced the brilliant knock with India having their backs to the wall.”
He had been described as weak in technique and mind. Once he blocked all of that, the Proteas lost patience and started bowling wide outside the off-stump. Virat smiled as he recalled that. “They (Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel) were not threatening. It was about respecting good deliveries. But it is good to go for it and counter-attack in the face of all that.”
South Africa has been on his mind for a long time. Even while India were hammering runs against Australia in the ODIs, Virat says he was thinking more about scoring his first international hundred in South Africa.