Fox Sports have scored a massive win over Channel 7 with Virat Kohli’s decision to leave Australia after the first Test of the summer.
The Indian skipper will only face Australia in one Test this summer after he was granted paternity leave to return home after the series opener in Adelaide.
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The BCCI confirmed on Monday that Kohli will return home for the birth of his and wife Anushka Sharma's first child.
The COVID-19 pandemic means that trip will sideline cricket’s biggest drawcard from the final three Tests of the four-Test series that begins on December 17.
Amid Channel 7’s ugly tussle with Cricket Australia over their $450 million broadcast deal, they will lose out massively to Fox Sports.
While the Test matches are traditionally played at the start of the Australian summer and limited-overs matches following, the schedule has been flipped on its head this year.
Kohli will feature in three T20 and three ODI matches against Australia, before the first Test in Adelaide.
But with Fox Sports holding exclusive broadcast rights to the limited-overs matches, Channel 7 will only have one game of Kohli on free-to-air TV.
“Football superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and basketball icon LeBron James are the only international athletes on earth with a bigger marketing and social media footprint than ‘King Kohli’, and his ‘limited time only’ summer has now put a premium on every game he plays on Fox,” News Corp cricket writer Ben Horne pointed out on Tuesday.
“Both networks have based their summer promotion almost entirely on Kohli, and while Channel 7 will now have to recut their advertising to reflect the fact he’s missing the last three Tests including Boxing Day, Fox Sports will double down on ramming home the fact they’re the home of a megastar with a social media reach of more than 100 million people.”
Seven are still locked in a contract war with CA over whether or not they should be forced to pay the full $450 million, considering the COVID-19 pandemic will mean lower crowds at matches and less international players available for the Big Bash season starting in the new year.
India and broadcasters to miss Virat Kohli
Kohli is capable of captivating the public more than most members of Tim Paine’s team and will be dearly missed by Cricket Australia and Channel 7’s marketing departments.
Seven can not begrudge Kohli's family-first decision, but the free-to-air broadcaster will likely feel even more aggrieved about a summer that remains the subject of a testy contract dispute.
India will play cricket on 29 days this season, presuming all Tests run to a fifth day.
Fox Sports will show all 14 days involving Kohli (including a tour match), whereas 7 will only broadcast one Test involving the larger-than-life batsman.
The four-Test series will commence on December 17 at the Adelaide Oval before the Boxing Day Test showdown at the MCG and matches at the SCG and the Gabba in the new year.
Kohli's absence in the final three Tests is likely to create an opportunity for either Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw, a pair of 21-year-old batsmen with talent to burn.
Gill boasts a first-class average of 73.55, while Shaw was attracting Sachin Tendulkar comparisons even before becoming the youngest Indian to score a Test century on debut, a feat achieved at age 18.
But Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Shaw and Gill won’t come close to matching the aura surrounding this summer’s headline act.
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