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Kohli v Anderson: Who’s winning the battle of the greats?

by Alex Brinton 2 minute read

When you and your mates are sitting round trying to pick a Test team of the last decade there are plenty of names who are up for debate, but Virat Kohli and James Anderson are two that there can’t be much doubt over.

Anderson has claimed 617 victims at Test level and Kohli has an appetite for runs that few can match, churning out 7,547 runs and 27 hundreds since his debut in 2011.

These two have had some historic battles on the field. Only Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon has dismissed Kohli more times than the England great.

They first met during England’s triumphant tour of India in 2012 where captain Cook’s men won 2-1. Kohli, the new kid on the block, and Anderson, at the not so tender age of 30 had already played India 10 times in Test cricket. The two sparred, Anderson removing Kohli once – caught by Graeme Swann for six, but the two didn’t cross swords too often in a series ultimately won by England’s spinners.

When India arrived on these shores in 2014 Kohli was, even by then, one of the best batsmen in the world and was expected to play a big role for the tourists. But Anderson, with green pitches below and grey skies above, gave Kohli a lesson. Dismissing him four times in the five-match series, Kohli left England with an average of 13 in the UK as Anderson took 25 wickets at 20.60.

2016 and England are visiting India. Virat, this time on home soil, this time captain, is keen to put his marker down. The skipper scored 655 runs at 109.16 including a stunning 235 in the fourth Test. Anderson managed just four wickets in the three games he was played.

Four years on from his struggles in 2014, Kohli returned to England a different cricketer. He enjoyed spectacular years in 2016 and 2017, across which he averaged an eye-watering 75 in Test cricket. He had conquered everywhere else and now he came to England wanting to banish the memories of 2014.

In the first Test at Edgbaston Kohli swaggered to the crease with his team in trouble and Anderson in full flow. Phil Walker, editor-in-chief of Wisden Cricket Monthly, wrote at the time: “To Anderson he is deferentially cautious, exaggerating his defence to the moving ball, swerving his bumps and riding his luck.” Anderson, thanks to much persistence, managed to draw an edge from Kohli’s MRF bat on 21 only for it to be put down by Dawid Malan at slip.

Following that blip a masterclass ensued and when Kohli finally left the stage, after 149 runs that will live long in the memories of those who watched it, he left nobody doubting his class.

Both greats were successful in the rest of the series as Anderson took 24 wickets and Kohli scoring the most runs on either side. Instead of Anderson, Kohli found difficulty with Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes.

In England’s most recent tour of India, Kohli was frustrated by England’s bowlers only passing fifty twice in the four-Test series. Anderson, on the other hand, produced some of his best bowling performances on the sub-continent, taking the most wickets of any of the pace bowlers on either side.

In the end, the story of Test cricket’s fiercest rivalry is a tale of two halves. Anderson dominated Kohli early on, but since Virat was caught by Ian Bell for seven in the second week of August 2014, Anderson’s search for India’s most cherished wicket has left him empty-handed.

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