At the moment, Virat Kohli is busy trying to arrest the losing streak that Royal Challengers Bangalore have gotten themselves into in the Indian Premier League 2018, with three defeats in four games. But once the IPL is done, the Indian captain is looking to secure a deal to play county cricket, ahead of India’s tour of England that begins in July.
India’s tour starts with the limited-overs matches, before a five-Test series begins on August 1. When India had toured England in 2014, Kohli endured a torrid series, totalling just 134 runs across 10 innings for an average of 13.40, easily the worst of his Test career.
Kohli has reportedly already got permission from the Board of Control for Cricket in India to have a one-month county stint, which will mean he will miss Afghanistan’s inaugural Test, which will take place in Bangalore from June 14.
“I think it makes things more challenging and more competitive,” Kohli told NDTV on Thursday (April 19). “There’s no guarantee if you are going to do well or not, even if you go and prepare, or go in advance. But it’s just giving yourself the opportunity to get used to conditions that you are not used to.”
The idea drew flak from Bob Willis, the former England pacer, who felt England would be ceding an advantage to Kohli by allowing him to practice in their conditions beforehand. Willis went as far as saying, “I can’t stand overseas players in county cricket. He should be made to suffer and average 30 in England as he has done before. We don’t want England starting to lose Test matches at home because we’re accommodating all of these visiting players.”
Kohli though, shrugged that aside and said he was focussed on making his preparation the best it could be.
“We don’t have the kind of off-seasons anymore to be able to go to other countries and play,” held Kohli. “So I definitely don’t find anything strange in that. People have their personal opinions and I respect that, but I have to do what is best for my preparation going forward and I’m only focussed on that. I don’t think of too many things on the outside. If players get an opportunity, then why not? They should look to prepare to the best of the potential that they want to, and feel good about their games.”
Kohli found support for his point of view from Chris Woakes, his Bangalore teammate.
“My opinion on it is that if the counties are willing to sign Indian players heading into a series, then so be it,” said the Warwickshire allrounder on the sidelines of a training session at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. “The good thing about county cricket is that we get really good overseas players, which makes the standard of the county game stronger. Getting opportunity for young guys to bowl at the likes of Virat Kohli can only help the county game and make it a better competition and a better experience for guys going into the international arena. I don’t really have a problem with it.
“Hopefully he doesn’t score too many runs, so he’s not in too good a form come the series,” smiled Woakes. “But like I said, if it’s improving the standard of the county game, then so be it.”
The buzz was that Kohli was set to join with Surrey, but Alec Stewart, Surrey’s director of cricket, had told Wisden India in a statement in March that nothing had been signed yet with the Indian captain, though Surrey and other counties would naturally be interested in securing his services if he got the go ahead from the BCCI.
“Virat has not signed for Surrey and my understanding is that India are playing Afghanistan and Ireland in June and therefore wouldn’t be available,” said Stewart. “Should the BCCI make him available then Surrey along with other counties would certainly look at Virat as an option.”
Kohli also briefly pointed out that with the IPL, players from other countries are already getting the benefit of competitive cricket in Indian conditions, when asked about the reverse.
For England in particular, this is the most plentiful IPL season of all, with 12 Englishmen part of various franchises, the most there have ever been. England were slow to warm towards the IPL, since the tournament clashes with the start of the county season, but over the past couple of years, they have opened doors for their players to take part in the league.
“I think it’s brilliant,” said Woakes. “It’s 12 guys out here playing the IPL. It’s fantastic for the English game for those guys to gain experience in such a fantastic tournament, which is the best in the T20 world in my opinion. It’s brilliant that the ECB have allowed us to come and play. Obviously it does affect the start of our season a little bit, which has always been a problem in previous years. But they are trying to accommodate that, which is brilliant. And it’s great that franchises are picking England players. I think it shows where our white-ball game has come in the last couple of years that guys are getting picked up for large amounts in the auctions, which is great for the game.”
Woakes, who has Moeen Ali as his teammate, will face up to Jason Roy when Bangalore face Delhi Daredevils at home on Saturday, and he said that while the England boys regularly caught up with each other across the IPL, once they stepped on the field, there was an extra edge to do better than their countrymen.
“Particularly when we play against each other, we catch up for dinner and discuss what’s going on, how they are enjoying it. Some guys have more experience than others, so you try to tap into that,” said Woakes. “And yes, guys try and help each other, but once you come up against each other on the field, obviously you are trying to beat that guy. It can be a bit strange sometimes, being in the opposition. But it’s great to be able to play against those guys, particularly when you are used to playing in the same team as them. Great experience, and everyone’s really enjoyed it.
“You don’t want to be hurt by a teammate on the field. For instance, as a bowler you don’t want them to be smashing you around the park and hitting you into the stands,” added Woakes. “So I suppose it gives you that extra incentive to try and do well, try and get them out or, if you are a batsman, to try and smash them everywhere. It’s always a good little battle when you come up against your teammates from England.”