Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Virat Kohli's homecoming: The King wins hearts in Delhi

The Indian batting legend was the cynosure of all eyes at his home ground. And he did not disappoint. His gesture of hugging Afghanistan pacer Naveen-ul-Haq—with whom he had an altercation in the IPL—was loved by all

Published: Oct 12, 2023 04:00:44 PM IST
Updated: Oct 12, 2023 05:20:36 PM IST

Virat Kohli's homecoming: The King wins hearts in DelhiIkka, a die-hard Kohli fan, was waiting outside the stadium at 9 pm with a board reading “Day 5 of waiting for King Kohli” in his hand. He reached there at 5 pm and wasn’t willing to go even after the practice session concluded. Image: Mohsin Kamal 

On Wednesday, October 11, almost every street in Delhi wore a similar look. People going towards metro stations and bus stands were in blue jerseys with Virat/Kohli glittering on their backs. The conversations revolved around, “I’m excited to see Virat!”, “Hope Virat scores a ton!”
“It is more about Virat coming to Delhi today than the Indian team,” Sanjay Singh, a fan who was travelling to the stadium at 10 am—four hours before the start of the World Cup match against Afghanistan—said loudly.  

Kohli was born and brought up in Delhi, and played all his age group and domestic cricket there. The last time an ODI World Cup was held in India, in 2011, Kohli played a match in Delhi, scoring 12 runs against the Netherlands. However, back then, he was just another player, not the superstar that he is now.   
Twelve years later, it was all about him. People were least interested in the World Cup, Team India or anything else except for their ‘King’.  
A day before the match, when the team bus came to the venue for an optional practice session, a huge crowd gathered outside the stadium. They all wanted a glimpse of Kohli, but he didn’t attend the practice session.  
Ikka, a die-hard Kohli fan, was waiting outside the stadium at 9 pm with a board reading “Day 5 of waiting for King Kohli” in his hand. He reached there at 5 pm and wasn’t willing to go even after the practice session concluded.

When informed that Kohli wasn’t at the stadium, Ikka felt an instant disappointment, but said, “Maybe some other player would see me with this board and tell Virat.”  
On match day, the craze was at a different level. Among the 34,800 people who attended the match, almost every other person was wearing a jersey with ‘Virat’ printed on the back.  
Every time, Virat moved an inch on the ground, the chants of “Kohli, Kohli” would echo in the air. They became so common with time that it seemed as if the DJ at the ground was constantly playing a song that had just one lyric, “Kohliiiiiiiiiiii, Kohli”. 

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“I have been to many matches in Delhi and elsewhere, but what I witnessed today was unforeseen. Although it was a one-day match, there was rarely a dull moment in the stands. We all had come to see our hero: King Kohli,” said Tallha Shah, another fan.
The “Kohli, Kohli” chants increased manifold when Afghanistan’s fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq came out to bat. The two have a bit of a history. In one of the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches this year, Kohli and ul-Haq had a heated argument on the ground.
People on social media took it to another level. Thereafter every time ul-Haq came to bowl or bat, he was greeted with “Kohli, Kohli '' chants. However, this time it was the loudest. After all, the bowler had come to Kohli’s home and people hadn’t forgotten their spat.  
Afghanistan batted first and made 272 runs. As Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan walked out to bat, the excitement was palpable. The skipper started brilliantly, hitting boundaries for fun and taking away the game from Afghanistan without much trouble.   
As the Indian openers crossed the 100-run partnership, the impatience among fans to see Kohli became apparent. When a DJ shouted, “We want?” Instead of the usual “six” chant, this time the response was “Kohli”.  
“I won’t say we didn’t enjoy the way Rohit played, but for obvious reasons, we were more eager to see Virat come out to bat,” Mehak, an Indian team fan, said.  
India lost a wicket in the 19th over—Kishan was caught at cover. A loud cheer came from the crowd. For a second it seemed the crowd full of blue had suddenly turned to support Afghanistan. But the case was different. People were celebrating Kishan’s wicket because they knew Kohli was the next to bat. When he finally came out from the pavilion named after him, the madness began. “Those were the loudest cheers I have ever heard in my entire life,” Rahul Sharma, a spectator who was sitting near the Virat Kohli Pavilion, remarked. It indeed seemed a homecoming. “For us, the happy ending would have been Virat smashing Naveen for sixes,” Rahul laughed.  
However, Kohli had other plans. He didn’t see it as a clash, but did something that “only a true gentleman” would do.  
When ul-Haq was bowling to Kohli, he was being mocked by the crowd. After a while, Kohli pointed towards the crowd, asking them to stop doing that to the pacer. “At that moment, he won my heart all over again. That’s who you call a true gentleman,” Mehak said with a glitter in her eyes.

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While fans thought Kohli had come out to win the battle against ul-Haq, he ended up winning hearts. The two shook hands and hugged in the midst of the match, leaving everyone shocked.   
“It was always on the ground, not outside of it. People make it big. They need that stuff to gain followers. Virat said we are done with that, and I said yes, we are done with it. We shook hands and hugged," ul-Haq said after the match.
Kohli’s smoked a boundary to register an eight-wicket win for India in just 35 overs. The whole stadium lit up with firecrackers. Everyone left the stadium with a huge smile, including Kohli.