Virat Kohli notched his highest Test score to help India reach 255-5 against South Africa on day one in Johannesburg.
The 25-year-old hit 119 off 181 balls, including 18 fours, before being caught by JP Duminy at cover off Jacques Kallis.
His innings helped the tourists regain the initiative in the first Test at the Wanderers after losing openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay with just 24 runs on the board.
With his first century against the Proteas, Kohli provided early proof that India are well equipped for life after Sachin Tendulkar.
He has been hailed as the man to take the hero's mantle from Tendulkar, who brought his record-breaking 24-year career to an end last month, and was given an immediate examination of his credentials after South Africa's quicks removed both openers cheaply.
After defying some fearful pace bowling before lunch, most specifically from Morne Morkel, Kohli blossomed after the break in a counter-punching innings the tourists required as they reached tea at 164-4.
Kohli was unafraid to take the attack to South Africa's pacemen in the afternoon, at one stage dismissively pulling Dale Steyn to the ropes after he had earlier unnerved Dhawan into giving away his wicket to the short ball.
Kohli's only obvious error, as he reached tea unbeaten on 84, was to sell Cheteshwar Pujara short in a run-out that ended an 89-run stand for the third wicket.
Kohli aborted a single he had called for and the committed Pujara was left without a prayer of re-finding his crease as Imran Tahir lobbed the ball to Hashim Amla at the non-striker's end.
India lost a further wicket just before tea, when Rohit Sharma (14) loosely drove at Vernon Philander to edge behind.
Life after Tendulkar had began uncomfortably for India, who have lost their past eight away Tests, as openers Dhawan and Vijay fell inside the first hour after Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss.
Steyn was particularly able to worry Dhawan (13), who eventually thrashed ill-advisedly at a bouncer, which flew straight to Tahir at fine leg.
Vijay (6) survived a tough chance at short-leg when Amla dived to his left, but Morkel deservedly had his man shortly after. The opener fenced at a full delivery that found just enough natural movement in the conditions to take the edge for wicketkeeper AB de Villiers to pouch and leave India 24-2.
Morkel could have even had another, Pujara edging just short of Graeme Smith at first slip, as the right-armer embarked on a probing spell of five overs which cost a single run for Vijay's wicket.
Kohli and Pujara nonetheless reached lunch without further loss to be 70-2 - their rearguard rewarded when leg-spinner Tahir's only over on the stroke of lunch cost 10 runs.
After the resumption Kohli began to counter-punch and he slapped Philander through the covers before comfortably pulling Steyn away in the next over.
He brought up his half-century from his 76th ball when Tahir dropped short, the leg-spinner's waywardness providing relief for India as his first six over cost 37.
But just as the tourists seemed to be assuming some control Pujara, who had willingly dug in for 25 from 98 balls, was needlessly run out in a mix-up of Kohli's doing.
Sharma strode to the crease - armed with an average of 288 after his impressive debut series against West Indies - but frustratingly fell just before tea for 14.
After Kohli's dismissal Ajinkya Rahane, in his second Test, was left unbeaten on 43 at stumps, while skipper Dhoni was not out on 17.