CENTURION – Before this second Sunfoil Test, Virat Kohli was asked about what it meant to play with intent.
“Intent doesn’t mean you have to go out there and start playing shots from ball one,” said the Indian captain.
“Intent is there in a leave, intent is there in defending the ball as well, intent is there in being vocal when you call out there in the middle. All those things count as intent.”
Kohli showed intent from ball one on Sunday. A back-foot defence stroke to the first ball he faced from Kagiso Rabada was middled.
His second ball was a forward defence, again middled, this time straight to mid-off. His first boundary came off the fourth ball of his innings, it looked no more than a defensive push, but the ball raced to the cover boundary.
His fifth ball brought another boundary, this time via an on-drive.
There was intent in the manner in which the Indian skipper started his innings. It stayed that way for all of the 226 minutes he was at the crease.
By the time he’d reached 45, Kohli had faced 58 balls and struck seven fours. He’d finish the day unbeaten on 85, hitting just one more boundary – having faced a further 72 balls as India ended on 183/5 to trail the Proteas by 152 runs.
But don’t mistake the latter part of his innings for a lack of intent.
The circumstances of the match had changed. South Africa had blasted through the fragile Indian middle-order, and all that was keeping them at bay was Kohli and his intensity.
He left and continued to defend with terrific intensity, and all the while cajoled his fellow batsmen in support of him.
But they had neither the patience nor the skill to get on top of this Proteas attack, who on a flat surface – one in stark contrast to what they expected and wanted at one of their favourite grounds – kept probing.
The morning had brought an extra 66 runs for the South Africans, meaning they matched what is the average first-innings score in a Test match here.
But from 246/3 where they were with 41 minutes to play on Saturday to 335 all out represented something of a failure.
Three batsmen made half-centuries – but one of Hashim Amla or Aiden Markram needed to kick on and get something substantial to give South Africa control of this match.
As it stands, the Proteas are ahead, but they will need to get Kohli, and Kohli doesn’t look like he’ll get out.
South Africa’s quicks, along with spinner Keshav Maharaj, were made to strain every sinew to get make something happen from the surface.
They were grateful for KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara’s two errors which gifted them the first two wickets.
But then Kohli and Murali Vijay gained control for two hours, putting the home team under pressure.
After the tea interval they sought to attack Maharaj, but the left-arm spinner won a short battle with Vijay, dismissing him for 46 as he went to cut.
With one end opened up and the vulnerable Rohit Sharma at the crease, the Proteas attacked relentlessly.
A brisk spell from Rabada accounted for Sharma lbw (10) and then debutant Lungi Ngidi’s big moment arrived when he had Parthiv Patel caught behind for 19.
Earlier, Ngidi nearly had the prized wicket of Kohli, but on review from the South Africans, umpire Paul Reiffel’s ‘not out’ decision stood, with the Indian captain getting just a thin inside edge on the ball before it crashed into his pads.
It was that kind of day. The margins were very fine, especially so on a surface offering so little for the bowlers.
But for the odd one that turns from the rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump at the Hennops River End, there wasn’t much in it on Sunday for the spinners either.
The intensity of Kohli has kept India in this match.