Jansen complemented Rabada with a three-wicket haul; Pujara was the only other Indian batter to cross 40
South Africa 17 for 1 (Bumrah 1-0) trail India 223 (Kohli 79, Pujara 43, Rabada 4-73) by 206 runs
Cape Town had to be the setting for one of the most compelling one-on-one battles. Dark clouds had obscured Table mountain. A bad omen for all batters. And it that wasn’t enough, once they made it to the crease and looked up, they saw the grim reaper. Only he was holding a red ball instead of a black scythe. Rabada refused to succumb to human error. Every ball was on a good length. Everything was targeting the stumps. Nothing short. Nothing down leg. Nothing easy. All of it at 140 kph.
Ajinkya Rahane was consumed by this onslaught.
He came in with his career hanging by a thread and Rabada snapped it with a ruthlessness that has always drawn the whole world to the art of fast bowling. Pitched up. Angling in. Moving late. Edged. Gone. The moment was almost a physical manifestation of the kind of luck that has dogged the former India vice-captain. Like, if he were to look under his couch cushions for some change, he’d probably find a moldy old half-eaten tuna sandwich instead.
Every unstoppable force needs an immovable object. Joker has Batman. Global warming has Greta Thunberg. And Rabada had Kohli. There was a period between the 47th and the 49th overs when this showdown hit fever pitch. There were plays and misses. There was an edge that fell short. There were oohs. There were aaahs. There were wry smiles. But there was no wicket.
And that’s the genius of Kohli.
He walked out at a time when South Africa’s bowlers were producing one false shot every four balls. India were under siege. To survive a situation like that, you need clarity of thought and conviction of method. Kohli displayed both. He left 64.7% of the first 100 deliveries that were outside his off stump. In the last five years, over 1100 innings, only four batters have ever been more restrained.
This was a sharp change in mindset from the way he played (and got out) in Centurion, one that was enabled by a subtle change in technique. Sunil Gavaskar was quick to spot it on the broadcast. The former India captain said of the current India captain that his front foot was now moving down the pitch in a straighter line. In the first Test, because he was looking to play at everything, his front foot kept moving too far across, taking him towards deliveries that he had no business getting close to.
Here, Kohli was determined to make South Africa’s bowlers come at him. And it worked. He played only 16 false shots in 201 deliveries. That count for the rest of the team: 48 in 271.
More to follow
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo