One of the things New Zealand fans pride themselves over India’s past tours is how they managed to get Sachin Tendulkar’s autograph. It is something they cherish, although other India players have produced some excellent performances in difficult conditions, including Rahul Dravid.
On this tour, the player who excites them is Virat Kohli. His attitude, confidence, grit and determination with which he takes on the best bowlers and builds his innings has already set him apart in this side.
In South Africa, Steyn and Co punctured his pride in the ODI series. The picture of Virat being struck a painful blow on the ribs by Morne Morkel was repeatedly showed on TV. But he came back strongly in the Test series, missing out on a hundred in both innings in Johannesburg by four runs.
On Sunday, Virat earned the admiration of the New Zealand fans with a remarkable century. First, he showed his class, playing smooth shots against genuine pace and then settled down to anchor the innings. Although the pitch was good for batting, he was one batsman who had plenty of time to play his shots. Unlike Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, he never threw it away.
Virat’s best shot came off the fastest delivery of the day. Andre Milne fired one at 153.4 kph, only for the batsman to effortlessly drive for a straight four.
In the end, India fell short. But until Virat was in the middle, there was strong hope the visitors would somehow pull off the chase. That is due to the reputation he has built. In 119 innings, he has scored 50-plus on 46 occasions. It was only the second time a Virat century had not resulted in an India win. His centuries while chasing a target have led to 16 victories, and 11 of them while chasing.
Before Sunday, the only Virat century to result in a loss was against England at Cardiff in 2011. MS Dhoni acknowledged his deputy’s class as well as discipline. “He is free-flowing, and backs himself to play the big shots, but he can also pick and choose. His ability to convert 50s into big scores is very important.”
Raina provides the contrast after again looking jumpy against pace and bounce and falling to an awkward pull. Dhoni had slotted the left-hander, once known as a finisher, for the crucial No 4 position, but his failures have already pushed him down a slot. With Ambati Rayudu waiting in the wings, and Cheteshwar Pujara yet to get a ODI run, the pressure will be on Raina.
Dhoni acknowledged how poor contributions from No 4 and 5 are forcing India to play catch-up, comments which suggest his patience may be running out.
Video: Highlights of Virat's scintilating knock