Is Virat Kohli A Flat-Track Bully? FactChecking James Anderson's Claims

Why did Anderson rake up an issue that is not only old but had been well settled by Kohli himself with his willow?

Virat Kohli & James Anderson

Is Virat Kohli technically deficient as a batsman or if put more crudely, a flat-track bully? If one goes by English pace attack’s spearhead James Anderson’s comments on Sunday, it may seem there is some merit in his analysis of Kohli. But a look at the Indian Captain’s overseas statistics minus that forgettable England tour of 2014, it is time to give Anderson a reality check based on facts.

For Virat Kohli, leading Team India to a series win against the English on Monday has undoubtedly been a shot at redemption after the batsman’s dismal show in the 2014 tour of England.

Though the mainstream and social media reported it widely as Anderson’s take on Kohli, no one has attempted to see through the player’s real intentions. Why did Anderson rake up an issue that is not only old but had been well settled by Kohli himself with his willow?

The English team is facing its worst overseas series defeat in recent years. There is also immense pressure growing on the English skipper Alistair Cook to pass the baton to Joe Root and the English media had been all set to have a crack at their team.

It is here that Anderson’s rant has achieved its objective. It has shifted the media focus from the team’s debacle to one-on-one battle between players that the press and social media always love.

With Ravichandran Ashwin giving a piece of his mind to Anderson on the pitch the next day for discrediting his captain, the game and the result went on the backburner and the on-field antics took over.

A closer examination by throwing Anderson’s words against some hard facts would tell us what the player was actually trying to achieve.

Here is what James Anderson said about Virat Kohli –

“I just think any technical deficiencies he’s got aren’t in play out here. We had success against him in England but the pace of the pitches over here just take any flaws he has out of the equation. There’s not that pace in the wicket to get the nicks, like we did against him in England with a bit more movement. Pitches like this suit him down to the ground. He’s a very good player of spin and if you’re not bang on the money and don’t take your chances, he’ll punish you.”

Anderson’s claims are based on two premises – One is that Virat Kohli’s technique against quality pace bowling on tracks that assist pacers is highly susceptible. Secondly pitches in India are tailor made to suit players like Kohli and hence the success here is bloated.

Let us now put these two arguments against some real statistics.

Kohli for sure had a disastrous tour of England in 2014. Out of the five test matches he played, he managed a meager 134 runs in 10 innings at a dismal average of 13.40 and twice he went for a duck. Worse, Anderson got him out four times in the series.

So for starters let us assume that Anderson is right when he says that Kohli has a technique that is deficient when it comes to playing the moving ball. Perhaps the fact that the Indian batsmen failed in the ODI matches too, following the tests, to the likes of then lesser English stars like Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes might add more credibility to Anderson’s claims.

But tearing Anderson’s claims to pieces are some of Kohli’s performances before and after that one ill-fated English tour in more trying conditions against tougher exponents of pace bowling.

In December 2013, a few months prior to the summer tour of England, the same Virat Kohli made an outstanding 119 on a green bouncy track at Johannesburg in the first innings and followed it up with a match saving 96 in the second to draw the test match against the likes of Steyn, Philander and Morkel, an attack which spews more venom compared to Anderson & Co on any given day.

India then went to New Zealand before reaching the shores of England. At Wellington, another seaming track, India had to bat out two sessions to save the match. Coming in to bat at 10 for 2, the Delhi boy cracks another century (105) to save India the blushes.

Post the disastrous English tour, the scene shifted to Australia. Down Under, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni suddenly announcing his decision to quit test cricket, the mantle to lead automatically fell on Kohli and he took to his captaincy as fish to water.

At Adelaide in December 2014, he became the second player in the game’s history to score twin centuries on captaincy debut (115 &141). Greg Chappell had been the first. He also became just the second Indian captain to score two centuries in the same test, the first being Sunil Gavaskar.

Though India lost at Adelaide, a new Kohli was born, breaking at least 8 other records in that test match.

Kohli added two more tons to his name at the MCG (169) and Sydney (147) before India had to return following a failed attempt at retaining the World Cup.

From Johannesburg to Wellington to Adelaide to Sydney, the cricketing world had been acknowledging why the Indian captain’s technique is among the best in the world except James Anderson who still thinks poorly of it.

If the stats alone were not enough, Virat Kohli had himself explained why he had failed in England.

“It was more of me not having a counter-plan for whatever he [James Anderson] or the England team was planning for me. It was more a matter of that, than me thinking he was one particular bowler I was not comfortable facing.”Kohli in June 2015. He also added how a slight change in technique helped him perform better in Australia.

Perhaps the matter should have ended there. But Anderson by involving Kohli again and questioning his technique seems to be deliberately building a case for England’s poor performance in the series by blaming the spin friendly pitches here that favour the home team’s batsmen.

It is perhaps sensing this, Virat Kohli said after the match on Monday - “England should be happy they have not been beaten as New Zealand, South Africa and Australia before them on ragging turners and Cook had won the toss three times out of four.’’

Perhaps the Indian captain could not have answered Anderson more gracefully.

Strangely, Anderson’s comments come at a time when Virat Kohli’s ascendency in the Indian side is total, which again gives the sense that the bowler had read the batsman’s game rather poorly.

Kohli is also among the most successful Test captain and the records that he has broken as a skipper only re affirms it.

He has the second highest batting average among test captains at 65.50, second only to the legendary Don Bradman and above Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene.

His 235 at Mumbai is the highest test score by an Indian captain. He is also the third in the world and the first Indian captain to score three double hundreds in a calendar year.

By completing 1000 runs in this calendar year, he becomes the third Indian test captain to achieve the feat after Sachin Tendulkar in 1997 and Rahul Dravid in 2006. Among all the Indian captains, Kohli is the first to win five successive test series.

He is also the first batsman in international cricket to have a batting average of about 50 in all three formats of the game.

Come 2018, Kohli will also get a chance to end once and for all the ‘technique deficiency’ question when India tours England. Till then, the jury will still be out as far as Anderson & Co are concerned.

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