On Friday, adoring fans wearing Virat Kohli shirts and face paint rushed for a spot inside India’s Mohali Stadium for the superstar cricketer’s 100th Test match.
Kohli is one of the best batsmen in the modern game, and he was India’s most successful Test captain until stepping down as skipper in January but remained a player.
“We came here for Virat and hope he scores a century in his 100th Test,” Rhythm said as he and his friends chanted Kohli’s name ahead of the start of the match against Sri Lanka.
“He is star number one. He might not be the captain now but will always be the best leader India has ever had,” the 21-year-old fan, who goes by only one name, told AFP.
Vendors outside the ground did a brisk trade, selling India caps, flags and shirts for around $1-2, and Kohli’s number 18 jersey was the top pick.
“Kohli’s T-shirts have always been the best seller and get us good money,” Ram Kishan, who has been selling merchandise for over a decade, told AFP.
“Rohit’s 45 number shirt is also popular among the boys. I am happy the crowds are back and Kohli’s century has made it special too,” he said, referring to India’s new captain Rohit Sharma.
The landmark game was set to be held behind closed doors because of the pandemic but authorities had a last-minute change of heart, allowing 50-percent capacity. Almost all the tickets were sold out.
– Big shoes –
Kohli, a Delhi native who became the 12th Indian to play 100 Tests or more, made his debut in 2011 and had large shoes to fill when he took over for MS Dhoni in Australia in 2014.
But he made an immediate effect, propelling India up the international Test rankings, turned the team into a force to be reckoned with, and establishing himself as a fan favourite.
Along the way, he racked up 47 million Twitter followers, a slew of commercial deals, and married Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, forming India’s most famous marriage.
His on-field bravado and numerous altercations with other players and umpires did nothing to diminish his enormous popularity.
The end to his captaincy began last year after a disastrous T20 World Cup that saw India thrashed by arch-rivals Pakistan and fail to make the knockout stage.
He quit the T20I captaincy, was sacked as ODI skipper and after a public falling out with the head of the Indian cricket board and a series loss in South Africa resigned as Test leader in January.
But fan Gurmeet Singh, who claims to have watched Kohli’s innings of 67 not out in Mohali in 2013 against Michael Clarke’s Australia, said Kohli will always hold a special place.
“What we watched in that summer of 2013 was class and it was the beginning of Kohli’s stardom,” Singh told AFP as he queued to collect his ticket.
“He is a special player and has got India many wins and hopefully will continue to do so.”