James Anderson's moment of mastery sets tone for another duel for the ages with Virat Kohli

Kohli's first-ball dismissal ends seven-year wait for prized scalp, and renews a defining rivalry

Nagraj Gollapudi
He takes leg-stump guard. Flicks his bat, puts his head down, taps the bat and gets ready to face James Anderson.
The ball lands right around where he would have visualised it: on a length, fourth stump. It starts shaping in. He is standing a little outside the popping crease. He moves his back foot back and across, the right toe angled to point and takes a big front-foot stride. On pitching, the ball has begun to straighten and Virat Kohli, in trying to defend, pushes at it. The edge flies through to Jos Buttler, moving a yard to his right.
There's a bit of disbelief and a bit of dejection in Kohli's reaction. Out for a duck, his first delivery of the series, from the man who has played such a big role in him becoming the batter he is, one of the greatest of all time. Having entered the ground minutes earlier, bustling with a heavyweight boxer's energy, Kohli retreats to the dressing room defeated and deflated: how did this happen?
This on-field sparring between two greats is up there with Test cricket's historic one-on-one duels and has become one of the defining strands of the modern England-India rivalry. After the 2014 England trip, Kohli admitted he was playing for himself and that Anderson, who dismissed him four times including a duck in Manchester, had made him return to India feeling like "the loneliest guy".
In 2018, Kohli, now captain and so unable to think just about himself, was unperturbed by Anderson dissecting his technique during the very first Test at Edgbaston. Three times, Anderson found his edge and three times he was dropped in an unbroken 15-over spell. Kohli was lucky that day, but he buried his ego and scored a memorable century.
In a chat with Michael Atherton for the Times, Kohli explained two key changes he made before the 2018 series. In 2014 Kohli said he was exposing his right hip and shoulder as well as moving his back foot too early which left him exposed to Anderson's inswinger. So he became more sideways in his stance. "I was expecting inswingers too much and opened up my hip a lot more than I should have done," he said. "I was in no position to counter the outswing."
The second change was a suggestion from Sachin Tendulkar who asked Kohli to stand outside the crease "to get on top of the ball, not worry about pace or swing; you have got to get towards the ball and give the ball less chance to move around and trouble you."
On the eve of this Test Kohli was asked what he would do to combat Anderson this time around. Without batting an eyelid he replied: "I'll bat." If only facing Anderson was that simple. But this is Kohli and you can be sure that Kohli would have fine-tuned every little aspect of his batting in preparation to face Anderson.
Even on Thursday morning, more than an hour before the start of play, Kohli was in the nets practising against exactly the kind of delivery that would ultimately get him. In that session though, Kohli, having stretched forward, was either leaving the ball well alone or playing it confidently. But practising for it, preparing for it, and then facing it in a live Test are two different scenarios.
On Sky Sports, Atherton asked co-commentator Dinesh Karthik whether Kohli could have left the ball. Karthik said what made it difficult to do so was the hint of the ball swinging in before it pitched, forcing Kohli to think he had to play it, which is where muscle memory also kicks in. That is how Anderson creates those doubts in the batter's mind.
Only the previous delivery, Anderson had sucked in Pujara with nearly the same plan: ball moving in from the channel, pitched slightly fuller, drawing in Pujara to play before straightening and taking the edge. We cannot say for certain whether Kohli saw that Anderson had kept the shiny side on the outside, but possibly he picked up on the wrist, which might have suggested the ball was going to come in. And that is how it started, but upon pitching on the seam it moved away. By then Kohli had committed to the stroke.
One of Kohli's strengths, he has always maintained, is that he doesn't do half measures, so the option Atherton raised with Karthik - whether he could have left the ball - might not have entered the Indian captain's mind. The only thing that Karthik felt Kohli could have done differently was to play with softer hands.
Anderson has now has got that first strike and set the tone for what should be an engrossing individual battle. Kohli will not say it, or show it but Anderson has a way of creeping into a batter's mind and crippling all their plans. Anderson is at a stage now where even the greatest of his opponents are furiously theorising about his tricks: last year Sachin Tendulkar was talking about Anderson's reverse-reverse swing.
Anderson did not do anything unthinkable on Thursday against Kohli. He simply bowled a delivery that he can bowl blindfolded. In his own words later, Anderson said he "bowled the ball exactly where I wanted to" and also that Kohli nicking it that early does not happen so often.
August 9, 2014 was the last time Anderson dismissed Kohli in a Test. For seven years he has waited patiently through two India tours and then at home in 2018. During this time he has "challenged" Kohli's fourth stump consistently, but Anderson said the Indian captain "either play and missed, or left it, or he's been good enough to get through it", but today he got him to nick it.
Some of the best moments in life are also the shortest, but they live in the mind forever. The entire sequence of Kohli's innings lasted barely a minute. It left Kohli in despair and Anderson ecstatic. And the rest of us will be talking about it for as long as the memory is working.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo