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Kohli makes 119, India 255-5 after 1st day

December 18, 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Virat Kohli’s century held India together after a taxing start to the short series against top-ranked South Africa, with the tourists emerging form trouble to reach 255-5 on the first day of the opening test at the Wanderers on Wednesday.

Kohli made 119 for his fifth century and highest test score having almost single-handedly lifted the No. 2-ranked Indians from an unsteady opening at 24-2. He fell late in the final session but had responded convincingly to noises from the Proteas camp that he was vulnerable against short-pitched bowling to make his first international ton in South Africa.

“Getting to the hundred was an amazing feeling,” Kohli said. “I had my plans and I executed them to my liking today and it’s a very satisfying knock ... that was probably the best I’ve batted in test cricket.

“Apparently I was pretty soft,” he added of the South African comments during the recent one-day series.

Kohli hit 18 fours and faced 181 balls in over four hours to defy the home team’s famed quicks, sharing an 89-run stand with Cheteshwar Pujara (25) for the third wicket and putting on 68 for the fifth wicket with Ajinkya Rahane (43 not out). Kohli arrived in the 16th over and left 60 overs later with India in a far superior position.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was unbeaten on 17 at stumps with Rahane, who played impressively in just his second test. Yet, India’s innings and the test were still delicately balanced and both teams said they were reasonably satisfied at stumps.

“It wasn’t a great day but it was a good day. It was tough test match cricket,” South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald said. “There’s a lot riding on tomorrow’s first session — massively. We’re going to have to come out swinging, there’s no doubt about that.”

South Africa’s seamers shared four wickets; Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis all picking up one each. However, none of them pushed on to make a decisive dent in India’s order.

“I don’t think they were threatening at all,” Kohli said of South Africa’s pace attack. “They are quality bowlers. We all know that ... (But) If they are good enough to play at this level, so are you.”

Pujara was run out to break India’s best partnership and Kohli’s role in that mix-up was his one major fault. But he redeemed himself by reaching three figures and he leapt into the air, fist pumping, to celebrate a century on his ascension to Sachin Tendulkar’s No. 4 spot in India’s batting order. India is playing its first test since the retirement of Tendulkar, cricket’s most prolific run-scorer and India’s most adored player.

“Big shoes to step into,” Kohli said.

South Africa’s Donald praised the 25-year-old batsman for doing it impressively: “There’s a lot being said about him (Kohli) filling the great Sachin Tendulkar’s boots and today he made a statement. Good knock,” Donald said.

The two-test contest began predictably on the pacey pitch in Johannesburg.

South Africa unleashed a barrage of quick, often short-pitched bowling at India on traditionally one of the country’s quickest tracks. And with the exception of Kohli, India’s top order struggled to deal with the menace of Steyn and Morkel as Shikhar Dhawan miscued an early hook shot to be caught off Steyn for 13 and Murali Vijay edged behind for 6 after being roughed up by Morkel.

Steyn peppered Dhawan with short balls before the left-hander top-edged to Imran Tahir at fine leg. Vijay survived a chance at short leg, and played and missed regularly, before nicking behind to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.

Kohli battled his way in and pounced on a brief respite to hit legspinner Tahir for two blazing fours through midwicket in the last over before lunch. That appeared to give him and India some impetus after the visitors struggled to score at two runs an over in the morning. Kohli even dominated South Africa’s attack at times in the afternoon session, greeting one Steyn spell with a crunching straight drive to the fence in the midst of his counterattack.

Pujara dug in for his 25, facing 98 balls and hitting just two fours as India passed 100. But in a monetary lapse, Kohli called his partner through for a sharp single and then changed his mind, leaving Pujara stranded at the bowler’s end. Rohit Sharma fell for 14 to a flimsy cover drive when he edged behind, and India lurched again at 151-4.

But Rahane also marked his call-up with Tendulkar no longer available with a mature innings from No. 6. He hit seven fours and ensured South Africa didn’t expose India’s tail by the end of the first day.

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Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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