Harare, July 25 -- There were two individuals who were out to prove a point, though on different scales. But Virat Kohli had far less pressure on him than Ambati Rayudu, who was making his India debut after a long wait. However, being India captain does bring a lot of responsibility. In his first full stint as skipper and without the wisdom of Mahendra Singh Dhoni to depend on, Kohli did not show any nerves on Wednesday.
It also helps if the venue is Harare Sports Club, or the opposition is Zimbabwe, or a crowd that is only in the region of around 2000. But Suresh Raina had failed in similar circumstances when he led India in a Tri-series in 2010, so there was every reason to be on guard for Kohli and company.
But Kohli is cut from a different cloth and charts his own course. He can be aggressive and abusive but at the same time he also lets the bat do the talking. Kohli's 115 (108b, 13x4, 1x6) in the first ODI, which helped India chase down Zimbabwe's 228 with 31 balls to spare and six wickets remaining, showed how far he has come in his bright career.
It was his 15th century in his 109th match since he made his debut in August 2008 at Dambulla. His Delhi team-mate Virender Sehwag, opening the batting, needed 251 games to make that many hundreds.
Although it wouldn't be fair to draw comparisons, the numbers just illustrate how rapidly Kohli has grown into a match-winner and an appropriate candidate to take over the reins from Dhoni.
On Wednesday, at times Kohli needed Raina to chip in with suggestions. At one point, Raina ran from mid-off to slip where Kohli was positioned to offer some advice on field adjustments. But Kohli was in total control, particularly with the bat.
He came to the crease after Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma had failed to negotiate the tricky first 15 overs, when conditions assisted the seamers largely due to two new balls being used and a ground surrounded by trees and vast banks. Kohli hit the right notes from the beginning, with a lovely cover drive off Kyle Jarvis.
But he largely played to the situation, dealing in singles and helping debutant Rayudu calm down as the two put on 159-runs for the third wicket.
Rayudu, hailed as the most exciting talent way back in 2002, finally realised his dream of donning the India colours. While Kohli was his usual flamboyant best, it was a dogged effort from Rayudu, who stayed till the end.
Pakistan-born Sikander Raza top-scored with a patient 112-ball 82, but the hosts were short by at least 40 runs to pose any serious challenge. Whenever it looked like Zimbabwe could accelerate, leg-spinner Amit Mishra pegged them back with googlies and wrong 'uns.
In the end, Zimbabwe could only muster a below-par score. And once Kohli and Rayudu got going, the total was never going to be enough.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.