By Sarwar Alam
Nasser Hussain has backed India captain Virat Kohli to emulate the great Sachin Tendulkar and use the experience of playing county cricket to enhance his game and perform well in the upcoming series against England.
Kohli has a brilliant record around the world having scored hundreds away from against the likes of South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and four centuries in a remarkable last tour to Australia in 2014/15. However, the one blip on his record came on his one and only tour to England in 2014 when Kohli had a torrid time, averaging 13.40 in five Tests with a top score of 39.
To get himself better acclimatised to English conditions this time around, Kohli will play for Surrey in June, including three County Championship matches and at least three One-Day Cup games.
Speaking to Eastern Eye, Hussain said Kohli will benefit from playing county cricket, similar to some of his predecessors as India captain did, such as Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar. In 1992, A 19-year-old Tendulkar became the first foreign player to play for Yorkshire. He scored 1070 runs at an average of 46.52 in 16 first class matches.
“I look at that young lad Sachin Tendulkar that came over when he was 19-years-old playing for Yorkshire. What a phenomenal experience it was for him, for everyone that watched him, for everyone in that Yorkshire dressing room at the time. What a phenomenal experience it is going to be for that Surrey dressing room having Virat Kohli there,” said Hussain.
“He (Kohli) has scored runs everywhere he has gone apart from in England where he had a tough time last time around. This time he has come early, to get himself ready, do everything he can to perform. Everyone is just waiting to see how he gets on but it’s a good move on his part to play for Surrey.”
Hussain, who will be covering the England-India series for Sky Sports, believes Kohli’s decision to take time out of his busy schedule shows how much arguably the game’s biggest superstar values Test cricket.
“I think fair play to Kohli,” said the former England captain. “Test match cricket is becoming a little bit predictable. Everyone is winning at home, no one is winning away from home.
“But here is the busiest cricketer on the planet. He could have taken the easy, soft option. He’s had massive long IPL season, has a massive long tour of England ahead of him, he’s asked himself ‘what shall I do in between? shall I have a one-off game against Afghanistan? or take a break? or shall I go down the hard path and go to England and go and play some county cricket where you’re not just given runs where the ball moves around. He decided to take the hard path and all credit to him.
“Surrey will just be counting the gate receipts as soon as Kohli turns up!,” he added.
Fellow Sky Sports pundit Isa Guha believes that county cricket and the English game as a whole will benefit from being graced with the presence of a player of Kohli’s stature. The 29-year-old is the number one ranked ODI batsman in the world; is second in the Test rankings; averages over 50 in all three formats of the game and has scored 56 international hundreds.
“The benefit of having someone like a Kohli at your club, even if its just for six weeks, its unbelievable,” said Guha. “In terms of what you’re learning from him. And his experiences from around the world. How he plays his cricket, its just so beneficial for everyone. Yes, it might mean a youngster cant get an opportunity but it actually makes you want to work harder and learn from these overseas players that are coming over.”
On England’s previous tour to India in 2016, India thumped the visitors 4-0 in the five match Test series with Kohli smashing 655 runs at an average of 109. India also comfortably won the one-day and T20 series.
Both Hussain and Guha felt results like these, as well as England’s 4-0 home Test series win over India in 2014, show how dominant teams have become in their conditions and this makes it more important for players to go and play domestic cricket in different countries so they are able to play in all conditions.
Currently, along with Kohli, three other Indian players are playing in England, Cheteshwar Pujara (Yorkshire), Ishant Sharma (Sussex) and Varun Aaron (Leicestershire).
“I hope more come (to England) because it will improve their cricket away from home and it will certainly improve the standard of our domestic game,” said Hussain. “I think our cricket is so much richer having these great players, I know someone like Pujara hasn’t got a lot of runs but he’s learning all the time.
“When you think about the amount of cricket these top international players, that’s why I admire what Kohli and some of the other Indian players are doing.”
Guha added that young English players should do the same and go and play in the sub-continent to become better players of spin on turning pitches.
“If you are a young spinner or a young batsman wanting to play for England and you want to improve your game on subcontinent pitches, then its no-brainer really,” she said.
“It’s vital to not just go to New Zealand and Australia to play club cricket or state level cricket, but to head out to India and play on those pitches there because you will be playing against some very good players, great spinners. You’ll be playing on pitches that turn. Its definitely something that should be encouraged.”
Sky Sports Cricket is the exclusive home of England Test and ODI cricket this summer, broadcasting live action against Pakistan, Australia, India and all women’s internationals, starting with England v Pakistan on Thursday 24 May.