The combination of a relentless schedule and the prize of winning a Test series in South Africa are factors that are likely to force the selectors to rest Virat Kohli for the second half of the home series against Sri Lanka in December. Although he has been named in the squad for the first two Tests, the Indian captain is likely to sit out of the final one and/or the six limited-overs matches that follow.
"Virat has played the maximum cricket in the world in the last one year. So he needs some rest at some point," a BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo, and went on to counter media reports that said Kohli had written to the selectors about taking some time off. The official insisted the Indian captain had "not asked" to be rested but it was simply his time to be, in line with the team's workload management policy. "The rotation is for everybody including him [Kohli]."
The Sri Lanka series ends with the third T20I in Mumbai on December 24, which is only days before India depart for South Africa to play the first of three Tests on January 5.
Despite claiming the No. 1 Test ranking recently, the team management led by Kohli and the coach Ravi Shastri want to extend their dominance away from home. And South Africa is a place where India have never won a series in six attempts. "They firmly believe they will win [the] South Africa series and they want to be fully prepared. The BCCI will support and whatever they ask we will help out," the board official said.
Kohli's schedule has certainly been hectic. He played all but one of the 13 Tests, eight ODIs and three T20Is in the 2016-17 home season. The only game he missed was the Dharamsala Test against Australia in March, with a shoulder injury that also led to his sitting out the first few matches of the IPL earlier this year. Since then, he has gone through further grind, over the course of the Champions Trophy, tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies and now the 2017-18 home season.
Ahead of the first ODI against New Zealand on Sunday, Kohli had hinted that some "key batsmen" would "definitely" be rested ahead of the upcoming away tours to England, South Africa and Australia in 2018. "How much ever fitness you do, everyone needs rest," he had said. "Everyone needs time to come back from training."
To further establish his point, Kohli compared the recent workloads of New Zealand and India. When Kane Williamson and his men stepped out on Wankhede stadium this weekend, they were playing their first match since the end of the Champions Trophy. Kohli, on the other hand, was leading his team on the park for the 23rd time.
Meanwhile, a talking point to emerge from chief selector MSK Prasad's press conference on Monday centred on Ashish Nehra's retirement. While the left-arm quick had said he had decided to end his career on his own terms, calling the first T20I against New Zealand at his home ground in Delhi his last match, Prasad offered a different version of events.
"See, there is a lot of apprehension going on about Ashish Nehra," Prasad said. "We have clearly communicated to the player, i.e. Ashish Nehra and to the team management that we are only looking at him till the New Zealand series. If you see the pattern with which we have selected India A players, the same bowlers we have been continuing with for the past one and a half years in all the A tours. That means they are very much in line. They have really done well in South Africa, also at home against New Zealand. This message has been very clearly communicated, we are very happy that. The player also needs to take it in the right spirit that the new generation is coming up. Instead of waiting till the end of the New Zealand series, he felt that Delhi game itself he quit so that the others can move on."
Nehra had also said on the day he had announced retirement that he could have continued to play for another year or two but decided against it because there was no big event, like a World T20, coming up, and because younger bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah had taken over the reins of fast bowling.
It is still unclear if Nehra will play the Delhi T20I on November 1, since he sat out all three of India's most recent matches in the shortest format. While many were speculating that Nehra had picked himself in the XI for the T20I against New Zealand, announcing it as the last match of his career, Prasad said the selectors had fielded no requests for a farewell game and the decision of a player's inclusion or exclusion would be taken on the day of the match by the team management.
"We can't say that [if Nehra will surely play]," Prasad said. "Whether he is going to play or not, it is clearly the [decision of the] team management and the selector on call, whoever it is. The think tank on that particular day will be taking a call. There is no assurance from our side that he's going to play or not."