Not very long ago we would see Rahul do all the hard yards — play the difficult period with the new ball, leave a lot of balls alone, show determination, impresses with his concentration — and then just as it would seem like it was time to cash in, he would start looking shaky. A lazy waft outside the off-stump, a shot straight to the fielder in the deep. The dismissal would come out of the blue and we would all be left wondering ‘what changed?’.
On the other hand, we would see Kohli walk in and just look to put the pressure back on the bowlers. He would, based on conditions, take his time getting set but mostly he would just seemingly waltz to 30-40 runs before you knew it. But once he got there, he, unlike Rahul, would not give it away. He would make his start count and make the opposition pay.
But on the first day of the Centurion Test, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul somehow seemed to have swapped places.
Rahul did what we have come to expect from Kohli. In tough conditions, the India opener put his best foot forward.
It was overcast but the right-hander left the ball well, play close to his body, put away the pull and the hook shot.
He did what was expected of an opener and then showed everyone watching how his Test game has moved up a level.
At no point did Rahul look like he was in a hurry. In the past, he could sometimes get carried away by the beauty of his own strokes or perhaps the adrenaline boost that accompanied them.
There was intent to dominate or just to play his natural game but it would invariably land him in trouble.
But during the 117-run opening stand with Mayank Agarwal, Rahul was the calmer guy in the middle.
When the former seemed a little shaken just before the lunch break. The more experienced batter would walk over and have a quick word to just settle things down.
More importantly, he continued in the same vein. Undisturbed. Ready to take full toll of the poor deliveries.
But that is another aspect of his game that stood out. He didn’t look to attack the good deliveries – as batters of his class often want to do – rather he patiently waited for the bad balls.
There was one occasion where he was caught in two minds against a short ball from Mulder.
He wasn’t sure about whether he wanted to play the pull shot and ended up playing a half-hearted shot.
The top-edge almost carried to Jansen in the deep but Rahul survived and was still there at the end of the day.
Kohli, on the other hand, started with two sumptuous fours – both timed to perfection.
And then, with South Africa employing Mulder and Keshav Maharaj from either end, he got time to settle into his innings.
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