Surrey confirm Kohli deal as India's captain gets licence to warm up for England
Surrey have confirmed the signing of India's captain Virat Kohli for the month of June so ending months of anticipation that he would use the county circuit to warm up for the Test series against England in August.
Kohli will become the fourth Test-eligible Indian player in county cricket this year with fellow batsman Cheteshwar Pujara currently at Yorkshire and seamers Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron representing Division Two clubs Sussex and Leicestershire respectively.
Although there have been a few voices decrying the fact that Surrey have given Kohli useful acclimatisation ahead of India's Test series in the country this summer, the vast majority of followers of England's professional circuit will welcome the additional publicity and status it is bound to bring.
Kohli will be available for all Surrey cricket throughout the month, beginning with Royal London Cup 50-over matches against Middlesex - an opening match at Lord's for India's captain - and Glamorgan and three Championship matches against Hampshire (which will feature a match-up with Dale Steyn), Somerset and, finally, Yorkshire where there will not be a guest house room to be had in Scarborough.
"It has long been an ambition of mine to play county cricket and I am thankful to Alec Stewart and Surrey for allowing me the opportunity to join them during their 2018 season," Kohli said. "I can't wait to get to the Kia Oval." His presence in county cricket owes much to the attitude of India's Committee of Administrators, headed by Vinod Rai. Rai had prepared the ground for Surrey's announcement by confirming that India players would not be forced to play in a one-off Test against Afghanistan against their wishes.
"Afghanistan is playing versus India and not Virat Kohli. No player (Cheteshwar Pujara especially) will be called back from UK to play versus Afghanistan. Priority is England and to do well there, so, whatever it takes," Rai said.
A five-Test series which begins at Edgbaston on August 1 is now confirmed as Kohli's priority as he seeks to conquer the challenge of English conditions. His record against the red Dukes ball in English conditions is the one blot on his cricketing CV. He had a sorry time on India's tour in 2014, scraping only 134 runs from 10 innings as India lost the series 3-1.
England will hope that Kohli's presence will also signal a general softening of India's resistance to their leading stars playing professional cricket in England if and when the opportunity arises.
Stewart, Surrey's Director of Cricket, said: "We are thrilled to have signed the biggest name in world cricket for the month of June. Playing and training alongside Virat will be a massive benefit for our players who will have the opportunity to learn so much from him.
"At a time when there is much discussion around the future of county cricket, the arrival of Virat should give our domestic game a massive boost and positive exposure around the cricketing world which in turn can benefit every county."
Stewart had enquired about Kohli's availabilility as long ago as March, only to be told that the prospect was highly unlikely because of India's Test against Afghanistan and Twenty20 commitments in Ireland.
Surrey, the wealthiest professional club in England, are making a habit of such marquee signings. Kumar Sangakkara had an outstanding summer in 2017, averaging 106.50 as he made eight centuries and three half-centuries in 13 innings.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps