It is the final frontier for many teams. A series in English conditions is a baptism by fire and, with pacers like David Willey and Liam Plunkett in the current England squad, the home team looks a formidable side.
An England tour has been India’s Achilles’ heel for a long time, but more recently it has been the bane of one of their most prized batsmen- The Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli.
India's Virat Kohli is bowled out by Leicestershire's Shiv Thakor
After being an unstoppable force in India’s away tours to Australia and even South Africa, it remains to be seen whether England will remain an immovable object for the Indian captain. It is a challenge he was looking to ease into by playing county cricket with Surrey, but a neck injury in the closing phase of the Indian Premier League kept that from happening.
Now, he faces the tough English challenge with little cricket under his belt in the recent past (he even missed the one-off Afghanistan test) and an injury which he has just recovered from; not the ideal situation for King Kohli, who must have been itching to leave his mark in England since 2014.
At a pre-departure press conference in New Delhi, Kohli tried to put all fears to rest regarding his fitness and form in English conditions.
“I wanted to experience the conditions in England, but in hindsight, I'm glad I didn't go there while I wasn't fully fit,” said Kohli. “Given a choice between being 90 percent fit and used to the conditions, and feeling 110 percent fit and going in fresh, I would rather be in this position.”
It is a sentiment that Sourav Ganguly echoed as he felt Kohli’s decision to play county cricket was a knee jerk reaction stemming from his previous failures in England.
However, even though Kohli has been trying to put said failures behind him, not having enough time to get used to the new conditions and coming straight off an injury into a long and tough tour could weigh heavily on the batsman’s mind.
Kohli has been a talisman for India in recent years, scoring 1444 runs in T20Is at an average of over 50 and amassing 1057 runs in Test cricket since last year at a staggering average of 81.30. But the star batsman’s Test average drops to a lowly 13.40 when it comes to facing the English in their own backyard.
India's Virat Kohli walks off after being given out during the Fourth Investec Test
Red ball cricket in England is an altogether different and tricky proposition, as Kohli himself is aware.
“It is not a place we have played in too much so you do forget what the conditions were when you played last time,” Kohli conceded.
If the openers struggle against a disciplined attack in swing-friendly conditions, there will be added pressure on him to lead from the front and perform; and that is not a situation a cricketer would like to be in when he is easing back into the game after an injury. It doesn’t help that this has been touted as India’s best chance of winning another series in England and Kohli is finding himself at the forefront of all the expectations.
With all this playing on his mind, even the mentally tough Virat Kohli could struggle to keep up in a gruelling series.
India is without doubt in a good position to win the series. But will the captain go down while the ship stays afloat? Given the current scenario, that is something that could well happen.
Words: Sahil Gangurde