It is hard for many cricket fans of a younger vintage to imagine the younger Zaheer Khan. Yes, he had raw pace, but he lacked control and was incredibly injury-prone. In 2006, in a bid to reinvent himself and get back in the reckoning for national selection, Zaheer played a season of county cricket at Worcestershire. He took 78 wickets in 16 first-class games, exhibiting newfound control and maturity, and returned to the Indian team as the leader of the attack for the next five years.
Virat Kohli’s game is certainly more developed at this point than Zaheer’s was in 2006. He is already an inevitable great, even though his record in England leaves much to be desired. Kohli won’t be playing 16 games like Zaheer; he is signed only for the month of June, which will mean he will be available for three one-day matches and three four-day matches for Surrey. That means his stint will be more of a tune-up than a reinvention, but in the age of cramped tours without serious warm-up games, it could prove decisive in the result of the upcoming Test series.
One thing which stands out about this opportunity for Kohli is the chance to play the long form of the game without the pressures of Test match cricket. After his debut, Kohli has essentially had to refine his Test game during international fixtures, as he rarely gets the opportunity to turn out for this native Delhi. While he has done a remarkable job of this and has shown a distinct linear progression, he can now work out chinks in his armour against friendly attacks without the severe ramifications of international failure.
The Oval, where Surrey plays, is known for flat pitches and high scores. Kohli escapes comparison to his Indian predecessors who went to England in the brevity of his contract. However, anybody who knows Virat Kohli knows that he is a confidence player. When he leaves the ball outside off stump and he is in form, he does so with supreme gusto even though it is an inherently defensive act, like a matador raising his cape. When he failed last time he toured England, he was tentative, full of self-doubt. If he crashes a couple hundreds against second-rate attacks ahead of the Test matches, I believe that Kohli has the defensive nous and self-determination to take it from there and deliver a comparable performance to Dravid in 2002 or Tendulkar in 1996.
Image: Surrey CCC