His batting has an ethereal quality about it. There is grace, flow and timing.
Yet, in conjuring his seventh Test hundred, K.L. Rahul added application and resilience to his natural gifts.
The opener and vice-captain was unbeaten on 122, and India was 272 for three at stumps on day one in the first Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday.
And under-pressure Ajinkya Rahane was unbeaten on a fluent 40 of cover drives, cuts and pulls.
For South Africa, Lungi Ngidi struck thrice, but the host attack lacked incision.
Day 1 highlights:
India vs South Africa HIGHLIGHTS, 1st Test: Rahul hundred, Rahane power IND to 272/3 on Day 1
India’s decision to bat was brave, considering overnight rain, a cloud cover and the possibility of moisture under the covers.
But India, which picked five bowlers, banked on its openers to bat through the initial spells by Kagiso Rabada and Ngidi and then consolidate.
The game-plan was both attacking and sound. The Kookaburra ball loses its sting after the first 20 odd overs, there is no substantial reverse swing either, and batting gets easier.
Rahul and Mayank Agarwal were solid upfront. India was 83 without loss at lunch on a surface with good carry but not much seam movement.
Rahul’s head position is the key to his batsmanship. With a still head, he achieves the critical balance.
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During the period Rahul was in Test wilderness, his head was falling away and he was vulnerable to deliveries darting in.
Now, he has put that behind. His trigger movement takes him forward, but not too much in front; he does not have exaggerated feet movement.
And his bat comes down straighter from a relaxed stance. He can quickly shift his weight to the back-leg for the horizontal bat strokes.
A straight drive off Rabada scorched the turf. The smooth-stroking Rahul essayed shots on both sides but none better than a gorgeous front-footed cover-drive off Ngidi.
Mayank, a compact batter with the right attitude, blended caution with spurts of aggression.
In the past, he used to get opened up since his left shoulder and left leg were not properly aligned.
Mayank has ironed out the chink.
The Proteas were blunted by the Indian opening duo. Spearhead Rabada could not find the probing line consistently.
Surprisingly, left-arm quick Marcus Jansen was handed a Test debut ahead of the more experienced Duanne Olivier.
Jansen is sharp and brings in the left-armer’s angle. But he got his line wrong and Mayank wristed him for boundaries.
And Jansen could not quite bring the ball into the right-hander from over-the-wicket, crucial for a left-armer.
However, Jansen should have dismissed Mayank (on 36) when he moved one away to find the edge but a diving Quinton de Kock came up with thin air.
After lunch, when Rabada tested him with a nasty lifter, Mayank, his eyes transfixed on the ball, rose on his toes and kept the ball down with soft hands. The sight would have pleased coach Rahul Dravid.
Eventually, a resurgent Ngidi brought one back sharply into Mayank (60) to win the referral for a leg-before verdict and end the 117-run opening stand.
Then, off his next delivery, Ngidi scalped Cheteshwar Pujara who, pushing forward, inside-edged an incoming delivery to a cleverly placed deepish short-leg.
Virat Kohli cover-drove with flamboyance and flicked with gusto, but then, chased a wide one from Ngidi to be held in the slips for 35.
The rock-like Rahul and the refreshing Rahane prevented further inroads.
It’s advantage India after day one.