JOHANNESBURG - Virat Kohli led by example with a batting showcase as India stayed in contention on the third day of the second Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park on Monday.
Kohli hit a masterly 153 in India's first innings of 307 to stay in touch in Centurion, even though South Africa stretched a 28-run first innings lead to 118 by scoring 90 for two in their second spell at bat on a storm-shortened afternoon.
India are slightly behind going into day four despite Kohli's innings and two early wickets from opening bowler Jasprit Bumrah, but they could justifiably feel that they were still in with a chance of levelling the three-match series following South Africa's 72-run win in the first Test in Cape Town.
Kohli had lamented India's poor batting in Cape Town and he could not have provided a better demonstration of how to handle South Africa's four-pronged pace attack.
In a model of concentration, good judgement and occasional breathtaking strokes, Kohli batted for 380 minutes, faced 217 balls and hit 15 fours. It was his 21st Test century to go along with 15 half-centuries, the best conversion rate since Don Bradman of any batsman who has passed 50 more than 30 times.
He was last man out when he was caught in the deep off Morne Morkel, hitting to one of eight fielders on the boundary as he tried to squeeze some extra runs with his tailenders having shown they were ill-equipped to handle fast bowlers wielding the second new ball.
Morkel finished with four for 60, taking the last three wickets, including that of Ishant Sharma, who could only fend a vicious bouncer to short leg.
Kohli received minimal support from his team-mates, with Murali Vijay (46) and Ravichandran Ashwin (38) the only other batsmen to reach the twenties.
Ashwin helped Kohli add 71 off 87 balls for the seventh wicket but he lived dangerously after being peppered by short-pitched balls from Kagiso Rabada at the start of his innings.
India's cause was not helped by two needless run-outs. Following Cheteshwar Pujara's first-ball dismissal on Sunday, Hardik Pandya started off for a risky single when he played the ball to mid-on. He was sent back by Kohli and then committed the cricketing sin of failing to ground either his foot or his bat as Vernon Philander's throw hit the stumps.
South Africa's second innings got off to a poor start as Bumrah reduced them to three for two.
Aiden Markam was Bumrah's first victim, falling leg before wicket as he played back to a ball which cut back and kept low. Bumrah followed up with the wicket of Hashim Amla, who was also trapped on the back foot by a similar delivery.
Both batsmen were so palpably in front of their stumps that neither sought a review.
India had opened the bowling with off-spinner Ashwin and he troubled left-handed opening batsman Dean Elgar. But Elgar survived to share an unbroken 87-run partnership with AB de Villiers, who batted confidently to be on 50 not out. Elgar was unbeaten on 36.
A thunderstorm interrupted play for an hour when South Africa were 68 for two. It resumed for another 27 minutes under gloomy skies with the floodlights on before bad light ended the day. Both batsmen survived some anxious moments, in particular Elgar, who on 29 edged Bumrah at catchable height between wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel and first slip Pujara.