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Battle within the battle: Kohli vs Anderson the defining contest

Virat Kohli versus James Anderson is a battle within the battle and its outcome might well impact the result of the five-Test series between India and England, which begins at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

 

Kohli vs Anderson-Season 3 of a high-profile cricket rivalry is loading against the backdrop of Olympics fervour. Virat Kohli versus James Anderson is a battle within the battle and its outcome might well impact the result of the five-Test series between India and England, which begins at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

Back in 2014, when Anderson dismissed Kohli for fun during the latter’s first Test series in England, mental health breakdowns weren’t en vogue in sport. A tally of 134 runs in five Tests was an all-time low for Kohli and much later, he spoke about how his mind bled during and after the tour. “I have gone through a phase in my career where it was the end of the world. I just didn’t know what to do, what to say to anyone, how to speak, how to communicate.”

Mentally, Kohli fought as the lone ranger, didn’t buckle under pressure and returned strong. Four years later, in England, he scored 593 runs in five Tests, including two hundred and three half-centuries. It also restored parity in the battle of the two greats.

India lost the 2014 series 3-1 and Kohli’s failure was one of the reasons for the defeat. India went down 4-1 in 2018 despite Kohli scoring runs, although the scoreline didn’t reflect the true picture. One-all after ‘two seasons’ in one of the game’s most mouth-watering contests, and Season 3 starts on a greenish Trent Bridge pitch.

India captain Virat Kohli during nets practice prior to the first Test Match between England and India at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

The India captain kept it short when asked about his approach against Anderson for the series. “I will just bat. Questions will definitely come but we have studied enough.” Kohli is now 32 years old, with 7,547 Test runs and 27 centuries under his belt. The last of those centuries, however, came against Bangladesh in Kolkata in November 2019.

The man from Burnley, England’s most successful Test bowler with 617 wickets, is excited about reigniting the contest. “Excited to playing against him again. You always want to challenge yourself against the best in the world and he certainly is that. As a batsman and captain, he has a huge influence on his team. So, it’s always a big wicket. It’s going to be a big challenge,” Anderson said at the pre-match press conference.

The 39-year-old is sauntering towards the golden sunset of his career but retirement, in the immediate future, is not on Anderson’s mind. “Absolutely not. I feel like I am bowling as well as ever. I feel great physically. I am just looking forward to this series.” The veteran fast bowler knows how the outcome of his battle with Kohli can shape the entire series.

James Anderson in action for Lancashire against Kent. (Twitter/lancscricket)
James Anderson in action for Lancashire against Kent. (Twitter/Lancs cricket)

Support cast key

Beyond Kohli, India has some excellent batsmen, from Rohit Sharma to Rishabh Pant via Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane and the opening uncertainty notwithstanding, they are good enough to face the swing test in challenging conditions. India’s fast bowling line-up is world-class, but can the team get going when the going gets tough? The Australia tour last winter was India’s crowning glory in terms of bouncing back from reverses. And despite Kohli’s apparent reluctance to give added importance to a series in England, this remains India’s final frontier. India last won a Test series in England in 2007, under Rahul Dravid, a year before the Indian Premier League was launched. They have lost three-Test series on the spin since.

Despite the 4-1 scoreline in 2018, it was a pretty even contest. Losing key sessions and the failure to come back from setbacks was India’s bugbear. Something similar happened in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand at Southampton in June. A batting implosion on the final morning cost India the match. Kohli called for improvement.

“Of course, as a team, we would like to improve on things we haven’t done well. And that is one aspect of the game that we need to get better at. It is all about understanding when things are not going your way, how to control the damage and that is what Test cricket is all about and you have to go through the situations and eventually capitalise when things turn your way. Because you are not going to have all the sessions going your way,” he said.

Kohli agreed that in the end, it will be down to execution. A refreshed India, thanks to an elongated break after the WTC final, need to show gumption.

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