NEWS

Can Virat Kohli light up the English summer?

March 28, 2018

After a difficult winter in Test cricket, England will be looking forward to playing at home this summer. But after a short series against Pakistan they face the world number one-ranked Test team, India. 

Fans booking corporate hospitality for the final Test at the Kia Oval will be among those hoping England can succeed with bat and ball in familiar surroundings after struggling overseas in the past two winters, including a 4-0 defeat in India.

The Indian side has plenty of big names in it, none more so than their captain and star batsman Virat Kohli, who will be briefly, and controversially, appearing on the county circuit in June. Surrey are favourites to sign him.

Like England, there is a contrast between India's home and away form. Their recent rise to the top of the rankings has been built on their dominance in India itself and in occasional forays to neighbouring countries with similar playing conditions - like their 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka last year. But in countries where pitches offer bowlers more swing, seam and bounce and there is less turn for their spinners, the outcomes are very different.

England has proved a particularly tough tour for India in recent years. In 2011, they arrived as world number one but faced being replaced by England if their hosts could win the four-match series by two or more Tests. In the event they were whitewashed 4-0. 

Then, in 2014, they took on an England side that had been in disarray, losing 5-0 in Australia and then 1-0 at home to Sri Lanka, with Graeme Swann retired and Kevin Pietersen sacked. After going 1-0 up at Lord's, India had every reason for optimism, but instead they were swept aside in the last three Tests, the final two by an innings. 

Kohli was at the heart of India's struggles. While he has been able to emulate his home form in countries like Australia and South Africa, he made just 134 runs in five Tests in 2014, never reaching 50. 

It was for this reason he has opted to play in county cricket. If he becomes a Surrey player, his brief stint will include an encounter with Yorkshire when he faces fellow Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who will also want to be in tune with the swinging and seaming conditions.

The pair will be missing Afghanistan's inaugural Test match in Bengaluru to make the trip, but clearly feel they have bigger fish to fry as they seek to make England their final frontier. 

Indeed, the fact that Kohli is getting the chance to grab some extra practice has enraged former England fast bowler Bob Willis, who opposes overseas players in county cricket.

He said: "He should be made to suffer 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".

While England will hope to be back to winning ways when the bowlers have the Duke balls in their hands again and the batsmen face an attack more suited to turning pitches, India know that their longevity as the top-ranked side depends on making a success of tours in alien conditions. 

Having recently lost 2-1 away to number two side South Africa and with a trip to Australia next winter, England will provide a critical challenge for India - and it should be a compelling watch for the fans. 

Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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