Opinion: Setback to Virat Kohli's English Summer
Can he still do well in England? With an unfortunate neck injury, Kohli misses out on the Surrey county stint that was ideal preparation.
Virat Kohli signing up for County Cricket for Surrey was a significant event. It was a statement of intent - a brave one too. It came from the desire to right the wrongs of the last tour of England in 2014. But his unfortunate neck injury has thrown a spanner in the works. It is a setback that he could have frankly done without.
The challenges of playing in a 5-Test series are steep when pitted against a quality bowling attack, inconsistently swinging and seaming conditions. The Indian team performed well in South Africa in similar conditions earlier in the year. Had just a couple of sessions gone in India's favour, so too would have been the series.
These sessions were lost because the batsmen were still acclimatising to the bounce and seam and wickets would fall in a heap. The same thing happened regularly when India toured last time in 2014 and Kohli managed only 134 runs in 10 innings. It is to correct these glitches that he had signed up for a month to play county cricket for Surrey.
A decent time-out in the middle is a confidence builder for any cricketer. The coach can remind you to watch the release of the ball closely, get to the pitch of the ball, play with soft hands. But, it is easier said than done.
It takes time to know where your off stump is, which balls to let go, which ones to caress softly and which one to defend stoically. A few misjudgments, a millimeters here and there, and you'd be back in the dugout. Suddenly the form is gone down the rabbit hole. Confidence in seaming conditions can disappear like the English sun.
Kohli, fresh off the IPL had a fantastic chance to unlearn the dominance of the bottom hand and drop it softly. It takes a little conditioning to refrain from going across the line and with a still head, look to drive in the 'V'.
He's perfectly capable of doing so. Meanwhile, it is not to be forgotten that Joe Root's England come into this series after taking a lashing in the Ashes in Australia. They need this series as much as India, if not more. It is a high profile contest and they will come prepared with meticulous plans to undo India's strategy.
SURREY’S FIXTURES IN JUNE 2018 THAT KOHLI WAS TO PLAY
June 1 KENT, Worsley Bridge Road
June 3 MIDDLESEX, Lord’s
June 6 GLAMORGAN, The Kia Oval
June 9 - 12 HAMPSHIRE, The Ageas Bowl
June 20 - 23 SOMERSET, Guildford
June 25 - 28 YORKSHIRE, Scarborough
Kohli's stint was more than the three 4-day games. It was the net sessions, the longer preparation, the easing into the new time zone and the habituation of playing in the longer form in cloudy and nippy conditions. Cheteshwar Pujara, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma will all be still playing county this season before the skipper touches down in London after he passes his fitness test in mid-June.
Ultimately, the deciding factor would be which bowling unit performs better - Indian or English. India, with an exciting and capable pace battery stands a genuine chance of winning the Pataudi Trophy.
The skipper can still lead from the front, with confidence and runs in the Tests, but now, his preparation would not be as solid and meticulous. It is a jolt to Virat Kohli's English summer; one that he would like to be something to remember with an overseas series victory.