Virat Kohli’s decision to skip Afghanistan’s inaugural Test match, against India in Bangalore in June, in favour of a stint with Surrey to fine-tune his preparations for the Test series in England has been met with excitement among English players past and present.
“It is a very good thing for him. It’s a very good thing for Surrey too. It is a coup by them. They will be delighted to have him – both as a player and someone they can learn from,” gushed David Gower, the former England captain, in an interview with Mumbai Mirror.
Afghanistan’s maiden Test match will start on 14 June, but the opposition will be led by Ajinkya Rahane after Kohli confirmed his presence at Surrey for all formats for the whole month.
His reason for making the decision is known: On his only previous Test series in England – in 2014 – he scored just 134 runs in 10 innings. For one of the best batsmen in the world, that number needs improving.
“Virat is one of the great players in the world at this moment. We know that his last tour here was disappointing,” added Gower. “So, I know he has a list of things on his agenda. He wants to prove that he can make as many runs in England as he does elsewhere. Anyone who has watched cricket in the last five years knows how good he is. He has got extraordinary talent in all forms of the game. We’ve our special moments and our weaknesses.
“This is his big chance to make amends for the disappointment of last time. Playing in England in August, the conditions will be more favourable. Being the captain, he wants to get a good result too.”
At the moment, Kohli is leading Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League 2018, and has among his teammates Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes.
“I know a few of the Surrey guys and they are not what people make them out to be a lot of the time,” Ali was quoted as saying by the Guardian. “But if anyone in that dressing room does think they are a big dog, they will need to sit down for a little while because there is a proper big dog coming.
“You see him on the field and people might think he’s arrogant, but it is the complete opposite. He’s so humble it is almost weird how nice he is. He’s the biggest name in India but will ring me to check I’m OK or ask if I fancy lunch. Sometimes a player will invite the squad to their house for a meal and it would be easy for him to say no. But he would always go. I can say with certainty that anyone who has a bad word doesn’t know the guy.”
Woakes agrees with Ali’s assessment of Kohli, telling the Guardian, “You have your perceptions of someone like Virat, who is quite passionate, emotional, in your face and plays it hard. But off the field he’s very calm and you can chat about anything. He’s very down to earth and for someone who has such huge pressures and public focus in India, to see him go about his business in this way quite refreshing."
There have been murmurs in India that Kohli should have been part of the momentous occasion when Afghanistan make their Test debut, but Gower feels Kohli is only showing respect to Test cricket by choosing the Surrey deal.
“Personally, for people like me, it is good to see him approach this whole tour from the point of view of giving himself and his team the best chance of success in all formats. By coming here, he is making the world aware how much he respects Test cricket,” said Gower.