At least seven India players, including captain Virat Kohli, will be in England in June as part of their preparation for the team’s upcoming tour of England from July to September. Kohli is set to have a County stint with Surrey that will see him miss India’s historic one-off Test against Afghanistan. But given the “more ceremonial” nature of the event, the BCCI will allow the skipper to skip the match. India will host Afghanistan for their first-ever Test, from June 14 in Bangalore.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma, too, will be playing for Yorkshire and Sussex respectively from the start of the County season, while R Ashwin might return to play for Worcestershire.
Add to the list the Test specialists like Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and a few others, who would be part of Rahul Dravid’s India A squad, scheduled to play some first-class fixtures in England, against counties and England Lions, in June. The Committee of Administrators (CoA), in consultation with the Indian team management, Dravid and chief selector MSK Prasad, has finalised the arrangement.
CoA head Vinod Rai, however, has assured that India would put up a strong side against Afghanistan, while describing the preparation programme for the England tour as “macro-level planning”. It starts with Kohli.
The skipper has long set his sights on England, aiming to put the record straight, batting wise. The County stint with Surrey in June-July, after the IPL, is believed to be part of the process. India will play five Tests in England from August 1. Kohli seems to be very keen to get used to the conditions before the tour begins. Four years ago, he had only 134 runs at 13.40 in five Tests in England.
The Oval, home to the Surrey County Cricket Club, will host the final Test of the England-India series.
“It’s true that he (Kohli) will play for Surrey, to acclimatise himself better in English conditions,” the BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary told The Sunday Express.
Surrey’s director Alec Stewart, too, spoke about the County’s interest in signing the India captain. “I did enquire a while back about Kohli when it appeared to be a possible option for him to play county cricket but was told India were playing Ireland in T20s and an inaugural Test against Afghanistan in June before the England tour. If he does now become available we would look at it again to see if it could potentially work around our current overseas arrangements,” the former England captain was quoted as saying by The Telegraph (London).
Surrey currently have Mitchell Marsh signed as their overseas cricketer, while Aaron Finch would join for the T20 Blast.
Kohli was looking forward to have a County stint ahead of India’s tour of England. “If I have a chance, I would love to do that. I would love to be there, say a month or a month-and-a-half before (the series). (To) get used to playing in those conditions. (To) understand what the wickets behave like in that particular phase of the year. I think those things matter a lot. If I have the opportunity to go there a few days before the tour starts, that will be great. I have actually been thinking about it, trying to work out how I can make that happen,” he had said earlier.
As for the other players, the BCCI doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the South Africa tour earlier this year, where India went without serious preparation. In fact, the CoA wanted to send the core group of players to South Africa early, skipping the home limited-overs series against Sri Lanka. But the team management didn’t show much interest. India lost the first two Tests in South Africa and although they bounced back to win the third, the series was gone.
Change in approach
According to Rai, the Test series loss in South Africa, where India struggled to acclimatise initially before getting into the groove, was a reason for a change in approach for England. “That’s number one. Number two is that this time we have time in June. County cricket will be on. India A will be on. But we will put up a very competitive team against Afghanistan also. Maybe, Virat will not play that match. But it would be pretty similar to the way we sent a very competitive team to Sri Lanka for the Nidahas Trophy,” the CoA head told this paper.
India’s previous two tours to England had been disastrous. In 2011, they suffered a 4-0 whitewash in Tests, while three years later the scoreline read 3-1 in favour of the hosts in a five-match series.
“That’s why we are planning on a long-term scale, on a macro scale, to make sure that the team is well acclimatised before the Tests start (in England). There shouldn’t be any scope for complaints with regard to preparation,” Rai said, adding: “Players (to turn up) for County cricket have been decided. The rest (to go early) would normally be the Test specialists but we are not giving the names just now because technically the selection committee should choose them first.” India have three T20 internationals and as many ODIs followed by five Tests on their England roster.