Virat Kohli's participation in county cricket to prepare for the marquee series against England starting 3 July may have come under cloud with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) opining that the Indian captain should play the one-off Test against Afghanistan instead on 14 June. The Vinod Rai-led Committee of Administrators (CoA), however, is understood to be in favour of the ace batsman honing his skills in England before the first match of the all-important tour.
India are slated to play the new entrants in Test cricket, Afghanistan, in Bengaluru in the middle of Kohli's county commitments with Surrey, and according to a report in The Indian Express, the ace batsman's absence from that historic match would be “disrespectful” to the neighbours.
“If a decision has been taken to allow the India captain to miss an international game and play county cricket at that point of time, it would set a very bad precedent. It would give a very bad message to the visiting Afghanistan team; that maybe the opponents aren’t worthy for us. It would be disrespectful to the Afghanistan team and also, it would be unfair on the broadcaster,” a BCCI official told The Express, pointing out further that even if the Indian captain was playing in England, he could come back for the Afghanistan Test and then fly back to resume his county duties. The official also wondered if Kohli had sought leave from the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) if he were so keen to play county cricket.
The CoA, on the other hand, said that there was communication from the BCCI on this regard yet, according to an Express source.
After the debacle in the first two Tests in South Africa at the start of the year, it was felt that India would have done well with some time to acclimatise to alien conditions, CoA chief Rai had earlier pointed out, adding that the decision was taken in consultation with the players.
"Virat Kohli will be playing for the top English County side Surrey in the month of June. The BCCI has allowed him to fully focus on the England Test series along with Cheteshwar Pujara (Yorkshire), Ravichandran Ashwin (Warwickshire) and Ishant Sharma (Sussex). Virat will miss the Test match against Afghanistan in Bangalore from 14-18 June," Rai told PTI during an interaction last month.
Apart from these four, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and a few others were being considered to be a part of the India 'A' squad that is to play first-class matches in England — against county England Lions — in June.
Kohli himself was keen to get some gametime in England ahead of the tour. One would remember his struggles against James Anderson and Stuart Broad the last time India toured England for a Test series. Kohli could only collect an abysmal 134 runs in 10 innings during that Test series in 2014, which is nothing in comparison to his glittering career Test figures of 5,554 runs in 66 matches, with 21 centuries and 16 fifties, and an average of 53.40.
"Playing county cricket will help me improve my game," the 29-year-old batsman had told NDTV. "It's just about giving yourself more opportunity to get used to the conditions that you are not used to," he was quoted asd saying.
India are scheduled to play three T20Is, three ODIs and five Tests in England from July to September.
England legend Bob Willis, however, had vehemently opposed the move to allow Kohli into county cricket, terming the decision as "nonsense".
"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," Willis had said.
Afghanistan Cricket Board CEO Shafiq Stanikzai, on the other hand, said that Afghanistan would miss playing against Kohli, as they embark on their Test journey. "Virat is a world cricket icon, something our players will miss the exposure playing against," Satnikzai said. The fact that Afghanistan would not play any Test against India in the new Futures Tours Programme (2019-2022) would have added to the Afghan team's sense of losing out on an experience of a lifetime by sharing the stage with the Indian captain.
The India versus Afghanistan Test incidentally would also be the first match involvijg the Indian cricket team that Star India would telecast since buying the consolidated broadcast rights to Indian cricket for a period between 2018-2023 with a bid in excess of Rs 6,000 crore.