Kohli to play county cricket as preparation for England Tests
Having learned a lesson in South Africa about how inadequate preparation could impact Test results, the BCCI has granted Virat Kohli permission to play county cricket this summer, ahead of India's five-Test tour of England beginning in August.
The decision might mean that Kohli misses India's one-off Test against Afghanistan, which is scheduled between June 14 and 18 in Bengaluru.
It is not yet known which county Kohli might play for before he joins the India squad for the limited-overs leg of the England tour in July. Though he has been linked to Surrey, the London-based county has not signed or held any talks with Kohli recently.
It is understood that Surrey had asked the BCCI about Kohli's availability as an overseas player last year, but the Indian board had said he would not be available because of the Afghanistan Test, and T20s against Ireland at the end of June.
Kohli could now be the third player after Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma to play county cricket this season. Pujara and Ishant, who were unsold at the IPL auction in February, will be playing for Yorkshire and Sussex respectively. R Ashwin, who played for Worcestershire last season, is the fourth player likely to feature in county cricket this season. He is understood to be in talks with few teams though a final decision has not been taken yet.
Kohli had previously expressed a desire to play county cricket, subject to finding space in the hectic schedule. He had a torrid time on the 2014 tour of England, where he made 134 runs at an average of 13.40 with a high score of 39 in India's 3-1 defeat in the Test series.
"Preparation time is something, which is very crucial for any side," Kohli had said after India had beaten England in the Chennai Test in 2016. "So yeah, if I have the opportunity to go there [England] a few days before the start that will be great. I have actually been thinking about it, trying to work out how I can make it happen. Most definitely, if I have the time I'll go and play there."
After the 2-1 loss in South Africa earlier this year, the India team management had acknowledged the need for better preparation in the lead up to challenging Test series. India had arrived in South Africa barely a week before the Test series was scheduled to begin, and even opted out of a tour match in order to have more practice sessions.
"This time we have been pro-active because post the South Africa experience we felt that exposure was essential for the team," Vinod Rai, the chairman of the committee of administrators, the body governing the BCCI, told ESPNcricinfo. "So we have given him and other Test specialists permission to play in county cricket."
Rai also said that a few other Test specialists would be part of the India A squad, coached by Rahul Dravid, which will play a two four-day matches in England in June.
According to Rai the decision was made in consultation with India head coach Ravi Shastri, Dravid, BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, and Saba Karim (BCCI, general manager of cricket) along with Kohli.
Rai also assured the Afghanistan Cricket Board that a competitive team would be fielded for Afghanistan's inaugural Test match. It is understood that most of the young players who have been performing consistently for India A are likely to get an opportunity to play the one-off Test. If Kohli is unavailable to lead India, Ajinkya Rahane will likely stand in as captain.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo