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Virat Kohli endorsed his succession to Sachin Tendulkar’s place in India’s batting order with a cultured century on the first day of the first Test against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium on Wednesday.
Promoted to the number four position filled for the better part of two decades by Tendulkar before his recent retirement, Kohli hit a career-best 119 as India reached 255 for five at the close of play.
Coming in with his side in trouble at 24 for two, Kohli stroked 18 boundaries in a 181-ball innings.
His innings went a long way towards justifying captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s decision to bat first but he could not hide his disappointment when he was dismissed shortly before the second new ball was due, driving Jacques Kallis uppishly to cover.
South Africa could not take advantage of his dismissal, however, as Ajankya Rahane, playing in his second Test, and Dhoni saw out the rest of the day.
Kohli shared two important partnerships as South Africa’s vaunted pace attack was blunted on a well-grassed pitch which offered plenty of bounce but minimal sideways movement.
He and Cheteshwar Pujara put on 89 for the third wicket before Pujara was run out for a patient 25 made off 98 balls. Then Kohli and Rahane, playing in his second Test, added 68 for the fifth wicket.
Rahane batted solidly, especially against the second new ball, and was unbeaten on 43.
The Kohli-Pujara partnership ended with a mix-up which led to Pujara being run out after making 25 off 98 balls.
Kohli played leg-spinner Imran Tahir towards midwicket and set off for a run, only to send Pujara back as Tahir scurried to pick up the ball.
Hashim Amla backed up at the bowler’s end and broke the stumps with Pujara well out.
Rohit Sharma, who made centuries in his only two previous Test innings against the West Indies in India, was caught behind off Vernon Philander for 14 shortly before tea.
Kohli, though, played a wide variety of attacking strokes, reaching his fifty off 76 balls with nine fours and his fifth Test century off 140 deliveries.
With a previous highest score of 116, against Australia in Adelaide two seasons ago, Kohli appeared to be determined to make his latest hundred a big one and played with more circumspection after reaching three figures.
Earlier Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel took a wicket apiece as the Indian batsmen were subjected to a testing examination from the South African pace attack.
Steyn dismissed Shikhar Dhawan for 13 and Morkel claimed the wicket of Dhawan’s fellow opening batsman, Murali Vijay, for six
For the first half hour, Vijay in particular showed good judgment in leaving as many balls as possible and defending solidly when necessary.
But the left-handed Dhawan showed vulnerability against some well-directed short-pitched bowling from Steyn. After a couple of false strokes, Dhawan top-edged a hook to backward square leg where Imran Tahir took a good catch.
Morkel, who came on as first change, gave Vijay a torrid time with some sharply-lifting deliveries before having Vijay caught behind off a fuller delivery. Vijay had only two scoring strokes in making six off 42 balls.