While Kohli himself didn't rate much of the century in the first innings, years later he might pat himself on the back for a gritty knock. © BCCI

While Kohli himself didn’t rate much of the century in the first innings, years later he might pat himself on the back for a gritty knock. © BCCI

Epic (adjective) – heroic or grand in scale or character

Epic was originally but not exclusively associated with a long poem in the main, but also embellished books and films that focussed on extraordinary deeds in no little adversity. Over time, it has taken on entirely different connotations; ‘epic joke’ and ‘epic fail’ have established themselves as commonplace in modern-day vocabulary, never mind how far removed from the intended definition they might have strayed.

In this age of hyperbole, epic is a word used so often that true epics can sometimes slip through the cracks. Or can they, really?

More than a half-dozen years later, Tendulkar lit up SuperSport Park again, this time in a Test match. India were so far behind the eight-ball after the first innings that all they were playing for was the proverbial pride. Staring an innings defeat in the face, India nearly avoided that ignominy, thanks in the main to a spectacular hundred by the maestro. It was his 50th Test ton, made epic by the occasion rather than the context, the magnitude of the accomplishment applying temporary soothing balm on the gaping cuts emanating from a crushing defeat.

Would it be wrong, for starters, to prefix Virat Kohli’s 153 at SuperSport Park earlier this week with epic? On his own, the Indian captain made nearly 50% of the runs his team managed in the first innings of the second Test. As impressive as that is, it was as if he was batting on a different surface, against a totally different attack, compared to his mates. As the rest floundered and stuttered, Kohli stood regally tall, at once an irresistible force and an immovable object. Beyond a point, South Africa stopped trying to get Kohli out. In the conditions that existed in Centurion, that is as massive a compliment as anyone could have received. So then, that’s settled – Kohli’s 153 will go down as an epic.

Is a glorious battle wonderfully fought but without the sweet aftertaste of victory more suited to the epic bracket than a successful one? Does the romanticism lie in the effort and not necessarily in the result? Kohli most certainly doesn’t believe so. “I would have been happy with a fifty had we won the match,” he was to say. “Because we lost the match, this knock doesn’t really mean much.”

Surely you don’t mean that, Virat? The wound is too raw, the hurt too recent, the heartbreak too wrenching, but when at some distant stage in the future he puts his feet up and reflects on a career most singular, he will appreciate this 153 for what it was. An epic, if there ever was one.

Tendulkar's knock of 98 might not have gotten India fully over the line, but it mattered just as much as those impactful hundreds. © AFP

Tendulkar’s knock of 98 might not have gotten India fully over the line, but it mattered just as much as those impactful hundreds. © AFP

It was on this same platform, but in an entirely different setting, that inarguably the most glittering jewel in the Indian cricket crown produced a knock for the ages. SuperSport Park was buzzing with an electricity unmatched before or since when India and Pakistan squared off their in 2003 World Cup Super League clash. The subcontinental Derby was easily the match of the tournament, an investment of emotion and effort from not just the playing cast but also from the respective support groups – within the changing room and beyond. It was, with George Orwell and Mike Marqusee’s permission, war minus the shooting. The vuvuzelas were out in full force, the cacophony deafening. The vibrant colours, the air crackling with tension and excitement, the promise of a battle royale and, for once, the action justifying the hype.

Sachin Tendulkar was in the mood. Boy, was he! India were chasing 274 in the final before the final, maybe the final beyond the final even. Up against them, the might of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, the fury of Shoaib Akhtar, the guile of Abdul Razzaq, the street-smart of Shahid Afridi. The little man chopped these giants to size, making his statements early and with finality. Akhtar took the new ball behind Akram, and banged the fourth ball in short and a tough wide. Tendulkar slapped him deep over point for a humongous six, triggering a hasty confabulation between skipper Younis, Akhtar and Akram. “For the first time, Shoaib told the captain, ‘I don’t want to bowl, I am not able to bowl’. That one shot destroyed his confidence for the rest of the game,” Akram was to reveal, more than a decade later.

Tendulkar’s marauding knock didn’t haul India over the line – that was left to the ice of Rahul Dravid and the youthful fire of Yuvraj Singh. But with such ferocity and vehemence had he dismantled the pace threat, and such was the psychological havoc he wreaked on Akhtar, that whatever else followed was merely an offshoot of his uninhibited onslaught. Akhtar might claim the last laugh, denying the cramping maestro a most memorable hundred by having him caught at point off a lifter. But the 98 added to the drama and the mystique, much like Gundappa Viswanath’s unbeaten 97 against West Indies in Chepauk. Given the context, there is a greater emotional connect with these epic 90s than equally felicitous and impactful hundreds.

The only Indian Test century at SuperSport Park that resulted in victory came from WV Raman on the 1992-93 tour, against an attack comprising Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian McMillan. © Getty Images

The only Indian century at SuperSport Park that resulted in victory came from WV Raman on the 1992-93 tour, against an attack comprising Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian McMillan. © Getty Images

More than a half-dozen years later, Tendulkar lit up SuperSport Park again, this time in a Test match. India were so far behind the eight-ball after the first innings that all they were playing for was the proverbial pride. Staring an innings defeat in the face, India nearly avoided that ignominy, thanks in the main to a spectacular hundred by the maestro. It was his 50th Test ton, made epic by the occasion rather than the context, the magnitude of the accomplishment applying temporary soothing balm on the gaping cuts emanating from a crushing defeat.

Tendulkar’s and Kohli’s aren’t the only Indian centuries in Centurion across formats in international cricket to have come in defeat. Yusuf Pathan produced a typically belligerent 105, off a mere 70 deliveries with eight fours and as many sixes, as he nearly pulled the rug from under South Africa’s feet. With the series ODI level 2-2 and India on 119 for 8 chasing 251 for their first series triumph on South African soil, Pathan mocked the length of the boundaries with a scarcely believable counter against Steyn, Tsotsobe, Morkel and Botha. It was epic-like in conception and execution, but not quite an epic, and not necessarily because it eventually came in a losing cause.

The only Indian hundred of four at SuperSport Park that resulted in victory came on the famous Friendship tour of 1992-93, the first series in South Africa since their return to the international fold. On a tricky track against Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian McMillan, Woorkeri Raman sacrificed natural attacking instincts to conjure a measured 114, his lone hundred for the country. Of silken-smooth strokeplay and timing to die for, the left-hand batsman last week marked the 30th anniversary of his Test debut, in the famous Hirwani Test at Chepauk. Raman himself had a pretty good debut – 83 in the second innings in his hometown, and a wicket in his first over in Test cricket, but it was Hirwani who stole the show with a record-tying 16 wickets on debut.

Today, Hirwani is the bowling coach at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, while his bade bhai Raman is the batting coach. Now, will that qualify as an epic coincidence?