King Kohli steals red-riding Raipur's heart and soul

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Old 23-May-2016
King Kohli steals red-riding Raipur's heart and soul

he otherwise isolated Raipur Highway found itself rather busy on a Sunday evening as congested cars and shared autos made their way to the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium in Raipur. The final stretch from the highway to the stadium, spanning a kilometre and a half, was thronged with street hawkers selling merchandise that engaged spectators aplenty. In India, spectator and hawker dealings are the norm ahead of cricket games, with purchases of counterfeit jerseys, team flags, headbands and other accoutrements being bargained for while others indulge in face painting and the likes all to show their support for their favoured team.

It was Delhi Daredevils' second homecoming when they made their way to Raipur for their final two home matches. There were quite a few empty seats spotted during their first game against Sunrisers Hyderabad that they won comfortably by six wickets yet, the home side found support in those present. On Sunday (May 22), however, although the stadium was a packed sea of red, it was in amalgamation with Royal Challengers Bangalore's black, and not Delhi's blue, with every jersey flaunting just one name Virat Kohli.

It came as little surprise though, that India's latest prodigy was the alluring factor. When Kolkata Knight Riders hosted Bangalore for a home game, the locals known for their strong affiliation to the home side, soon switched sides as chants of "Aaaar ceeeee beeeee" filled the stadium. That, after another dazzling exhibition of batting from Kohli, who has set the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League alight.

Kolhi, who has as many as four centuries this season, has the most number of runs across any IPL season, has most number of Twenty20 runs in any tournament in the format, just five months into the year. Whether or not one is an avid follower of the sport, a feat like that is hard to ignore, given that Kohli now is a household name for folk in India. Families walking in in clusters, with children as young as eight donning the Royal Challengers' red and black with Kohli's name on their back, were reflection of the same.

"I'm here only to watch the name on my back," quips a teacher who wore one of the same. When asked if there's a conflict of interest with her being caught in between her support for Delhi Daredevils and Kohli, she said rather steadfastly, "No, only Virat Kohli! This is my first-ever cricket match and I'm here to watch only him."

Her husband, a government employee with the ministry of health and welfare, while indulging in some pani puri on the fringes of the stadium, pronounced with a chuckle that she isn't even a cricket fan but loves Kohli.

"She doesn't watch cricket, but she's here only to watch Kohli. I love cricket and am a big fan of Delhi Daredevils."

But, guess what? He too wore a shirt identical to the one his wife flaunted on the day. When asked who his support was for on the day, he pointed to the name on the back of his jersey with a finality that signalled the end of the conversation and his unwavering support.

Numerous cut-outs and posters of the Daredevils decorated the city - bearing faces of Zaheer Khan, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy and more. But it didn't matter. Despite a half-century from de Kock in a do-or-die clash, it was Kohli's unbeaten 54 off 45 that took Royal Challengers Bangalore to their fourth win on the trot. It was a victory that was significant in more than one ways on the night. Kohli started the day with a superb catch running backwards to send back a well-set Karun Nair. He wrapped it up with a quick single to help his side finish second on the points table. Kohli rewrote the record books, too, as he crossed the 900-run mark for the tournament with his sixth half-century.

In terms of the tournament, it is clear that Kohli's runs have been vital for his team's progress and success alike. And in terms of the winner of hearts in Raipur, it was just as clear.

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