Centurion ton the defining knock for Virat Kohli the batsman and captain

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All great players have that one knock or spell that truly defines them. An effort that resonates across generations.

Say Sharjah ‘Desert Storm’ 1998 and you know we are talking about Sachin Tendulkar’s epic 143 against Australia. Mike Gatting, first ball and 1993 Ashes mean only one thing – Shane Warne’s ball of the century. Brian Lara has a 400 to his name but no cricket fan can forget the unbeaten 153 he made against an Australian attack comprising of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne in the Barbados Test of 1999 to seal a one-wicket win chasing 308.

The 1999 Eden Gardens Test between India and Pakistan will forever be remembered as the match where Shoaib Akhtar embedded himself in the psyche of the cricketing world, shattering the stumps of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar off successive toe crushers bowled with the wrath of a hurricane. Dravid himself will forever be remembered for his 233 against the Aussies in the 2003 Adelaide Test that set up one of the most remarkable Test wins for India.

Virat Kohli has not yet reached that level, at least not in Test cricket. While his incredible conversion rate in Tests – 21 centuries and 15 fifties – puts him in a league of his own, his tally of 5,454 is still some way away from the 10,000-run mark. But there is no doubt Kohli will finish his career as an all-time great. And when he does enter that club, he will most probably look back at the 153 against the Proteas at Centurion as the moment that defined him as a batsman and captain.

For Kohli, 2018 is the year that will show whether India truly deserve their No1 status in Tests. Having lost the first match in Cape Town, the Indian team attracted a lot of derision with their poor record outside Asia put back in the spotlight. Centurion was make or break for Kohli and India.

Let’s get one thing clear. It wasn’t the most challenging pitch. In fact, conditions were more Chennai than Centurion with the wicket offering sharp turn and the ball beginning to keep low by the third day. But given the match situation, it is arguably his most important.

Kohli’s 141 against Australia in the 2013 Adelaide Test at the beginning of his captaincy stint was arguably the better knock because it came in the fourth innings as the Indians made a valiant effort while chasing 364 and fell 48 short. That knock epitomised the kind of cricket Kohli expects the Indians to play – aggressive and always going for victory.

But Centurion had a lot more riding on it. The middle session of the third day was where the series could have gone to South Africa or remained up for grabs. India started the day at 183-5 and well behind South Africa’s 335. After Hardik Pandya ran himself out with the total on 209, it was all down to Kohli to keep India in the race.

Batting with the tail needs finesse and Kohli didn’t lose his shape or composure with the match, series and possibly the rest of the season that includes tours to England and Australia on the line.

The way he cajoled Ishant Sharma to fight it out for 20 balls while taking the total past 300 after the Proteas had taken the second new ball and dismissed Ravi Ashwin and Mohammed Shami was a fine example of a master at work. With the stump mic on full volume, fans who can understand Hindi were treated to a glimpse into the mind of a champion batsman asking his lower order team-mate whether he is comfortable facing the quicks and farming the strike accordingly.

Without Kohli, India would have been out of the Test and the series. But the Delhi batsman has ensured India live to fight another day by scoring half of the team’s total. If India do end up having a successful 2018, we will know where it all began.

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Jos Buttler hopes to give England ODI coach Trevor Bayliss fitting farewell

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Jos Buttler says England’s one-day contingent will be sad to see head coach Trevor Bayliss go next year but is already planning a grand farewell at the 2019 World Cup.

Bayliss has revealed he will call time on his reign when his contract expires at the end of next summer, setting in train a long goodbye which culminates in pursuit of two of the sport’s biggest prizes on home turf.

While the Test team will be focusing on reclaiming the Ashes, the limited-overs squad, whose own tour of Australia begins with a warm-up match against a cricket Australia XI in Sydney on Thursday, are shooting for a first-ever World Cup success.

The fact that is even a realistic possibility is down to the radical overhaul of England’s white-ball cricket under Bayliss, who inherited a team weighed down by conservatism and turned them into one of the world’s most free-flowing units.

“Hopefully we can send him off on a high,” Buttler told BBC Radio Five Live.

“That’s always been our goal as a side. I didn’t know if he would stay on for longer, that’s his decision and a lot of people will be sad to see him go.

“Trevor’s been fantastic for us, he creates a brilliant atmosphere around the team which allows people to go out and play in that free fashion.

“He doesn’t miss a beat, he sees everything that goes on and his great strength is he’s a great man manager. He really looks after people and gives them confidence. Any coach who can make the player feel 10 feet tall when they go out is fantastic.”

Buttler, who will earn his 100th ODI cap when the series proper gets under way in Melbourne on Sunday, has spent the past few weeks in Australia on Big Bash duty with Sydney Thunder.

While an Ashes campaign he once hoped to be part of went up in smoke, and a 4-0 defeat, he was finding his hitting range in the Twenty20 format.

And he accepts it is up to the likes of him to lift the spirits of a Test squad who cannot help but be deflated by their tame surrender of the urn.

“It was a tough series for England,” said Buttler.

“But I think the guys will dust themselves down. The ones who are still here seem in good spirits and I’m sure they will be looking forward to the white-ball arena and the freedom that brings.

“They’re naturally going to be a bit tired but a few of us are brand new to it and when you link up you bring that new energy and that excitement. I think that will drag a few of the guys up again.”

Alex Hales and Jason Roy are set to go head-to-head against CA for the right to partner Jonny Bairstow in Sunday’s series opener in Melbourne.

Joe Root’s sickness bug, which struck on the final day of the Ashes and has proved hard to shake, saw him skip net practice on Wednesday, though he was feeling well enough to referee the traditional football warm-up.

He is highly unlikely to be risked at the Drummoyne Oval, leaving Hales and Roy to vie for attention at the head of the innings.

Hales has not played for his country since September’s late night fracas in Bristol, for which Ben Stokes is still awaiting clearance or charge from the Crown Prosecution Service. Hales was originally suspended alongside the all-rounder but has returned to the squad after it was made clear no charges would be brought against him.

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South Africa in driving seat of first Test despite Hardik Pandya heroics

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Hardik Pandya went on a thrilling counter-attack but could not prevent South Africa from finishing on top on the second day of the first Test at Newlands on Saturday.

Pandya scored a swashbuckling 93, then took two wickets, but South Africa built on a first innings lead of 77 and were 65 for two at the close, an overall lead of 142 on a pitch which has helped fast bowlers.

India had slumped to 92 for seven in reply to South Africa’s first innings total of 286 when Pandya found a determined ally in Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

While 24-year-old Pandya went for his shots, Kumar took 34 balls to score his first run but then played some fine strokes of his own, scoring 25 in an eighth wicket partnership of 99 which more than doubled their team’s total.

The partnership frustrated the South African bowlers and kept them in the field long enough for Dale Steyn to give South Africa another injury scare.

Hardik Pandya 2

Steyn, in his first Test match since suffering a fractured shoulder in Australia in November 2014, had taken two for 51 when he pulled up with a bruised heel and left the field three balls into his 18th over.

After treatment in the dressing room he was sent for a scan.

Steyn would have hoped to end Pandya’s innings – and hasten the demise of the Indian batting effort — long before he was called upon to bowl a fourth spell in what was his longest and most intensive bowling effort since his shoulder injury.

Pandya struggled against Steyn early in his innings. He survived on a review after being given out caught behind off the fast bowler on five and was dropped by Dean Elgar at gully off Steyn when he had 15.

Pandya, 24, confirmed the reputation he earned as a dashing stroke player, first in limited overs cricket and more recently when he scored 178 runs off 168 balls in three Test innings in Sri Lanka last year, including 108 off 96 deliveries in the third Test in Kandy.

He hit 14 fours on Saturday as well as a six off left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj’s second ball of the match. He charged out to the next ball and should have been stumped with his score on 71.

Kumar was caught behind off Morne Morkel when Pandya was on 85.

If anything, Pandya stepped up his aggressive attitude after the dismissal of Kumar, swinging at a succession of short-pitched deliveries from Morkel and Kagiso Rabada.

His luck ran out when he flashed at a lifting ball from Rabada and was caught behind. 

Rabada finished with three for 34, while Vernon Philander took three for 33. Morkel and Steyn shared the other four wickets.

Pandya’s innings was in contrast to the struggles of most of the other Indian batsmen who were kept under pressure by South Africa’s barrage of four fast bowlers.

Cheteshwar Pujara laboured to 26 off 92 balls, while Rohit Sharma took 59 balls to score 11.

South Africa made a good start to their second innings, with Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar putting on 52 for the first wicket before Pandya dismissed both openers in successive overs.

Provided by AFP Sport

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