He is still the ‘King Kohli’ surrounded by people and his distinct swagger remains very much part of his personality but at the same time, he looks a completely different human being and very approachable.
Even if you are not a manic cricket fan, you would still like to break a barricade to go near him and may be just say ‘hi’.
There is every possibility that you will get a smile back in return and that would seem very sincere, deep and genuine. Your day will be made and you will go home a happy man.
Cricket is a ‘performing art’ and as an artist, it is not just his achievements but the connect that he is slowly creating with his fans will contribute immensely to his rich legacy.
It is not just about eulogizing the alpha-male who you see on TV screens every night as you savour your dinner. Now the relationship seems far more organic where the adulation from fans and the reciprocation from their hero has become a two-way street.
Success teaches you a lot but failure most certainly is the biggest teacher. It makes you perhaps explore your inner vulnerabilities and you start relating more with the common public.
In these 14 days across different Australian cities, watching Kohli connect with his fans, give autographs, selfies, stand for a group picture or a share a moment or two with familiar faces from the media would make one feel that he no longer wants to alienate people.
Noted actor Will Smith after the Oscar-gate had referred to what colleague Denzel Washington had told him, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
It is not that he did not stop by for selfies, autographs or a chat earlier but the same Kohli in Australia 2015, England 2017 or 2019 looked like a man from another planet.
During his peak, if one looks at some of the selfies that Kohli gave, it seemed like another mandatory exercise. Perhaps the three years of unconditional support as he battled a lean patch made him realize the need to carry people along.
In Melbourne, in Sydney, in Perth and in Adelaide, this correspondent met at least 10-15 different people who showed their selfies with Kohli while a few others showed autographs on caps.
A few also met him at a mall and some caught hold of him by the coffee shop.
One Indian from Canberra, who had come to watch a game in Adelaide, said: “We saw him at the coffee shop with some of the support staff. We were a bit apprehensive if we should approach him but he called us and posed with us.”
A junior women’s club hockey team in Melbourne got to pose with the former India captain in the middle.
If he now sees familiar faces in the media, he would greet them with a smile and check on their well being.
He smiled at a journalist turned Youtuber and also spoke to him for a minute while walking back from the practice. The journalists and youtubers (there are way too may) surrounded him.
“Aap sab aoo, (you all come),” he called all of them including photo and video journalists and posed with them. He was very livid with a travelling freelancer in New Zealand back in 2020 for an article that he had written. He saw the journalist and asked him to join for a photograph.
The videos will garner these youtubers thousands of hits and some of them will laugh their way to the bank. Kohli is the reason for that smile. He is happy and that is reflecting in his game. The effortlessness is back with that smile.
As he celebrates his 34th birthday on Saturday, he has hit his second peak and one can bet his last shirt that even if another dip comes, rest assured, a few million pure fans will also join his bandwagon of ‘Viratians’.
Will India’s playing XI see any change?
The Indian team management might be wary of changing the playing eleven for the all-important final group league game against Zimbabwe.
While Axar Patel (total of 6 overs of bowling and 9 balls of batting) seem grossly under-utilized but dropping him isn’t an option because Yuzvendra Chahal doesn’t have the batting prowess.
However, there is a possibility that India will meet England in the semi-final in Adelaide (it will be clear on Saturday) and Chahal has a better record than any Indian spinner against Jos Buttler’s side.
But throwing him directly in a semi-final might be unfair on him and hence it remains to be seen if he gets a game against Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe also have multiple left-handers in the top order.