Former England skipper and director of cricket at Surrey, Alec Stewart, tells Sportstar that the county had been following up the issue with Virat since he wished to play county cricket, a year and a half back.
During the home series against England in December, 2016, Kohli had admitted that he would ‘love’ to play county cricket if he could fit it into his schedule in the lead up to India’s tour of England this year.
And, only after hearing this, Stewart got in touch with the India skipper. “All I did was just following it up with Virat at that time. At some stage, we kept in contact with him and his advisors just to see [how it goes] and it looked like the BCCI may be involved in it. They finally gave the okay last week and then we announced it on Thursday. It is a long process, and something we were waiting for so that it can benefit two parties,” Stewart says during a telephonic interaction on Sunday.
The last time India toured England in 2014, Kohli could just amass 134 runs in five Tests, with an average of 13.40. But now with India set to take on England again, won’t the county stint help Kohli get acclimatised to the weather conditions of England?
Stewart, however, sees it differently.
“Virat is considered the best player in the world. Virat will score runs all around the world, he is that good a player, though his last Test series here was indifferent by his standards. I expect him to score everywhere in the world, including England, whether it is county cricket or international cricket,” the former cricketer, who featured in 133 Tests and 170 ODIs for England, reasons.
In his month-long stint with the county side, Kohli will feature in three championship games and a minimum of three 50 over games. So, how does the club plan to use the Indian star in such a short time?
“We are getting one of the best players, if not the best, in the world. He will be here for three championship games and a minimum of three 50 over games that can help Surrey and it can help Virat by providing cricket for him. He wanted to play county cricket and it may help him in getting ready for the Test series,” he says, adding: “When you look at it, he is only playing one game at a Test ground which is the Ageas Bowl, which I don’t think India is playing in, anyway. So, he is getting cricketing education and we are getting a world class player.”
There, however, is more to it. “It may also open up opportunities for English players to go and play in India. We are working on it with the BCCI and it may work that the English cricketers go and play first-class cricket in India. You never know. It can only help everyone,” the former England captain points out.
Door open for Indian cricketers
Coming from an environment where superstar cricketers enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, a county outing could well be different. So, will the India captain be enjoying any special privilege during the month-long stint?
Surrey’s director of cricket, however, makes it clear that it won’t be any different for the India star. “If you play for us, you do what the team does. He will be a part of the team both on and off the field. He (Virat) will be no different. He is looking forward to [playing here] and we are looking forward to him arriving,” Stewart says.
In the past, legends of the game like Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting have played for Surrey. And now, Stewart admits that the doors will be open for Kohli in the future too. “I will take Virat everyday. Whenever he is available and he likes to play, he will be welcome. We have had overseas player in Kumar Sangakkara for the last three years, then we previously had Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla. They all have been best players, and Virat too is in that bracket. If he is available again and it works for everyone, we will look at it,” Stewart says.
But is there any other Indian player that the club is aiming for?
“We will have to see. We are not closing the door on anyone. If a good player is available, we will look at that opportunity,” Stewart admits.
With less than a month left for Kohli’s trip to Surrey, both the Indian captain and the club would be hoping to make this outing the one to remember.