DURBAN – In the end, India strolled to the most commanding of victories at Kingsmead on Thursday night as a glistening Virat Kohli ton wiped away Faf du Plessis’ own gem from the afternoon.
Kohli was so brilliant that he turned a crowd of over 16 600 people into obedient children, all enthralled by the spectacle bestowed upon them on a perfect summer’s evening in Durban.
India eventually prevailed by six wickets, with all of 27 balls to spare.
In the mood that they were in on Thursday night, India may well have chased down anything from 270 to 330. They simply would have pressed down on the gas a bit sooner.
Kohli fell just before the end, caught on the boundary to the only loose shot he played, for a terrifically-paced 112.
It allowed Kingsmead, to a giddy man and woman, to salute him for a flawless chasing century, and a reminder of why he is regarded as one of cricket’s most ruthless of target-hunters.
Now back on wickets that encourage the run-machines, the imperious Indian skipper looks set to be a menace in the series.
His South African counterpart Du Plessis had earlier stood almost alone in making 120 off 112 balls to give South Africa a sniff at 269/8.
As good as the Proteas skipper was, his only support came from Chris Morris (37) and Andile Phehlukwayo with 27 not out. What Du Plessis really needed was one of his middle-order stars to stand up and do an Ajinkya Rahane.
Quinton de Kock (34) made a start, but was the first to be unravelled by spin. Aiden Markram (9) was next, as were JP Duminy and David Miller.
If India suspected South Africa’s engine-room may struggle against their wrist-spinners, Thursday afternoon confirmed it.
Du Plessis aside, the middle-order tried to blast their way through the web and paid a heavy price.
They will need to be more circumspect over the next five matches, because India will surely keep going with their spin-twin formula.
Once the lights came on and the ball gathered a bit more pace, Kohli was imperious, catching the eye with some most sparkling straight-driving and back-foot play.
As he settled at the crease, South Africa knew they were a good 50 runs shy of challenging him.
At the other end, Rahane again showed the folly of not picking him for every match of this tour. He added to the telling Test half-century he made at The Wanderers.
Kohli may have stolen the headlines, but the diminutive No 4 was a highlights package all on its own.
The 39th over was a short reel of his full range of abilities as he drilled Chris Morris over long-on for six, and then calmly helped him over Quinton de Kock’s head for four when he responded with a bouncer.
Rahane eventually fell for a majestic 79 off 86 balls, to end a record alliance of 189 runs in 188 balls for the third wicket. It was savage and sanguine all at once; Rahane the perfect foil to Kohli’s unblemished brilliance at the other end.
South Africans have waited to see Kohli in full flow. He got close at Centurion, but he fairly blossomed into full magnificence at Kingsmead, rewarding a full house with the full repertoire of his stroke-play.
The Proteas tried everything. Kagiso Rabada ran in like the wind, nudging 150km/h, but he found the unerring blade of Kohli hard to shift.
They chucked the ball to Imran Tahir, but he got blunted, too.
The only wickets that India gave up were a Rohit Sharma skier off Morné Morkel, and a bizarre run out of a dawdling Shikhar Dhawan, who added to India’s catalogue of maddening run-outs this summer.
On Thursday night, however, it didn’t matter, because it brought Rahane to Kohli, and that pair delivered beautiful misery upon the South Africans.
India lead the six-match series 1-0, with the second match at Centurion on Sunday.