“AB is a great friend of mine, I respect the way he plays the game and I’ve always respected him as a person as well,” Kohli said at India’s arrival press conference. “But when you’re playing against each other it’s just about wanting to get AB out and I’m sure the opposition would want the same when I play or (Ajinkya) Rahane plays or (Cheteshwar) Pujara plays as well.”
While Rahane and Pujara may be high-quality players – in the same way that Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla are for South Africa – no player on either side can match the aura created by Kohli and De Villiers, whose thrilling stroke play can change the course of a match.
Kohli is India’s most glamorous and best-performing batsman since Sachin Tendulkar while De Villiers has the rare distinction for a foreigner of having star appeal in India.
When South Africa toured India two seasons ago, crowds put aside their passionate support for the home side and chanted “ABD, ABD” whenever De Villiers walked out to bat.
It could even be argued that De Villiers contributed to South Africa’s downfall in the Test matches which followed a one-day series dominated by his dazzling batting.
De Villiers slammed three centuries in five matches, leading South Africa to a series victory which had Ravi Shastri, India’s team director (now coach), grumbling about conditions which suited the visitors.
It seemed no coincidence that the four Test matches were played on spin-friendly dust bowls and were dominated by Indian spin bowlers Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
It brought De Villiers down to earth, although he was still South Africa’s best batsman, scoring 258 runs at an average of 36.85. Even Kohli struggled in the conditions, restricted to 200 runs at 33.33.
Kohli has only played in two other Tests against South Africa, when India toured in 2013/14, but showed his ability to handle the pace and bounce of South African pitches by making 119 and 96 in the first Test in Johannesburg.
De Villiers has played 17 Tests against India and his average of 40.10 against them is modest compared to his career average of 50.47. But he has enjoyed some big successes – 217 not out in an innings win in Ahmedabad in 2007/08 and South Africa’s fastest Test century, off 75 balls, in Centurion in 2010/11.
Kohli is coming off a spectacular 2017, during which he hit three double centuries in compiling 1059 Test runs at an average of 75.64, while because of injury followed by a break from Test cricket De Villiers has only played in one Test – scoring 53 in the two-day rout of Zimbabwe – since January 2016.
De Villiers professed his excitement about being back on the big stage. Kohli, in speaking of the hunger in the Indian team, noted that he couldn’t speak for the opposition and that “AB hasn’t played much Test cricket since he played against us, and he’s coming back after a while.”
What seems certain when the world’s two top-ranked Test teams square up is that there will be extra excitement and anticipation every time Kohli and De Villiers walk out to bat.
Smith dug deep to hit an unbeaten 102 as the teams shook hands on the result, which leaves the score at 3-0 to Australia with one match left to play in Sydney.
But Smith did not seem to take too much enjoyment from how the surface had played, describing it as a “flat, dead wicket”.
Asked if he would like to roll this pitch up and take it with him around the world, Smith told BT Sport: “I don’t know if I would like to – I don’t think it was a great cricket wicket.
“It was flat, it was hard to get out, but it was also hard to score runs. It’s a bit of a pity really. Hopefully they can find something to do with this wicket, Boxing Day is a huge occasion and I don’t know if many people want to come and see one of those flat tracks every year. So maybe if they put some grass on it or try and get it to spin somehow it will give something to the bowlers.”
That’s it. The fourth #Ashes Test is drawn. Australia lead 3-0
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 30, 2017
England yet again had no answer to Steve Smith as the Australia captain took his Ashes tally to 604 runs this winter with his third century to close out a predictable stalemate at the MCG.
The hosts can no longer achieve a third 5-0 whitewash in England’s last four visits – but after Smith’s unbeaten 102, batting against type on a deathly slow pitch, they dashed any hopes of a consolation victory for Joe Root’s men in this fourth Test and so stay three up with one to play.
Smith lost the assistance of an equally becalmed David Warner (86) in late morning, after Australia resumed still 61 in arrears with two wickets down, but he batted throughout the final day to steer Australia to the security of 263 for four to close out the draw 99 in front.
There was zero promise for England through the majority of the first session, as they failed to get the old ball off straight – and there was precious little variable bounce either.
Root had already given Dawid Malan’s part-time leg-breaks a run when he decided there was no harm in finding out if he himself could maybe turn the ball the other way.
Warner had spent more than five hours in stoic self-denial, no mean feat for a batsman whose career has been characterised throughout by attacking intent and flair.
The sight of Root’s occasional off-breaks was too much, though, and he went after the first he faced – the Yorkshireman’s second delivery in all – and paid the price.
Root pitched it perfectly into a foothold just outside the left-hander’s off-stump, but Warner went after it all the same and managed only to skew a catch high into the safe hands of James Vince at extra-cover.
Shortly afterwards, Smith followed Warner’s slowest Test half-century with his own second-slowest – from 151 balls, 10 fewer than the opener – but when Shaun Marsh fell to a brilliant catch by Jonny Bairstow off Stuart Broad on the stroke of lunch, two wickets had fallen for six runs.
England therefore started the afternoon with renewed belief in the improbable, but Smith had other ideas.
Joined by Mitch Marsh, with whom he had put on a record 301 at the WACA, the world’s number one batsman was on a mission to protect his team’s series advantage.
Marsh needed 20 deliveries to get off the mark but, apart from squirting one thick edge just short of point, he was once again an able accomplice in his captain’s plans as Australia comfortably negotiated the second new ball.
After two sessions, the statistics bordered on an uncanny symmetry as Australia went from 61 runs behind to the same number in front – off 61.1 overs.
It was an unfeasible crawl, Marsh playing his own manful part with 10 almost strokeless runs from 97 balls up to tea.
In what remained of the contest, more of the same followed – interrupted only by the highlight of Smith’s century milestone, from 259 balls with six fours spread over almost seven hours – before an early close was mercifully agreed, with the home captain averaging 151.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 30, 2017