The Australians are doing the unthinkable. They are actually lionising the Indian cricket captain, calling him ‘King’ Kohli and using the footage around his exploits with the bat to ask if he will be the first ever Indian Test captain to win a series in Australia. Fox Sports, the official Australian broadcaster for the forthcoming tour of India Down Under, has been running a promo film over the past few days celebrating the success of Virat Kohli, and portraying what a visual delight he is to watch as a batsman.
The accompanying digital campaign centres around ‘Will @imVkohli reign supreme in Australia! #FoxCricket’. But it is the TV commercial that is more effusive. A collage of spectator shots interspersed with Kohli’s batting footage has supers that say, ‘The King is coming’, ‘The World’s Best Batsman Is on Fire’, ‘Fastest ever to 10,000 ODI runs’, ‘2018 ODI Average 133.5’, ‘The first India Test Captain To Win a Series in Australia?’, ‘See every Ball of Kohli this Summer’, ‘Only on FOX Cricket’, ‘King Kohli Australia’, ‘T20 Series begins Wednesday Nov 21’.
These certainly are high praise for the effervescent Indian cricket captain, especially from the Australians who normally are not known to be very enthusiastic about eulogising visiting foreign teams or accomplished players of the competition. True, Virat Kohli showed his red-hot form in the recently-concluded West Indies ODI series, ending the series as the top run-getter, accumulating 453 runs in five innings at an average of 151.00. He also hit a hat-trick of centuries in the first three ODIs to enter the 10,000-run club in ODIs, surpassing Sachin Tendulkar in becoming the quickest to the milestone. But Kohli has equally been in the middle of an unsavoury controversy in the past few days when during the launch of his personal app, a ‘fan’ wrote in saying, “He (Virat) is an overrated batsman. Nothing seems special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians." This got Virat mighty upset and incensed, so much so that he responded on live-camera saying, "I don't think you should live in India. Go and live somewhere else. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don't mind you not liking me. I don't think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right." Virat Kohli was mercilessly trolled.
In any case, why such love by the Australians for Virat Kohli, one may ask. Well, the Australians may really have had not much choice. With Australian stars Steve Smith and David Warner currently banned and not able to take part in the series, the Australian cricket team is largely devoid of star power. In fact, the feeling among experts is that the Indian team visit will most likely attract very low spectator interest and garner low to abysmal eye balls on TV. The official broadcaster, therefore, has no choice but to drum up some interest and frenzy by using the star power of the visiting opposition. The recent success of Virat Kohli, with his amazing string of knocks against the Windies, has been timely for Fox, prompting the promo film on the Indian captain.
The more charitable view on the Australians using Virat is that Captain Kohli has today truly joined the ranks of global master-blasters in cricket. He ranks well up there with the likes of Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Clyde Walcott, Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, each of whom dominated the world of cricket during his own time. Virat is this year number 1 in the ICC rankings for both Tests and ODIs. He has really carved out a place for himself in the galaxy of all-time cricket greats.
The sudden fondness of the Australians for the Indian captain has also prompted hushed rumours in Indian advertising circles that Virat and his beautiful wife Anushka might be in the running for brand endorsement of Tourism Australia. Parineeti Chopra, who currently features as the brand ambassador for Australia has not received very positive feedback for her last campaign Down Under. The swashbuckling Indian captain and his Bollywood star wife would possibly make more impactful endorsers for Australia to woo Indian tourists to that country. The reported rumours may not be entirely true but there sure is enhanced recognition, perhaps a little fondness, too, for Virat Kohli in the kangaroo country.
There is also talk going around that Puma, a brand that Virat Kohli endorses, is considering a limited launch of the Puma-one8 sneakers in Australia. Kohli inked a deal with Puma in 2017, the same year he launched his own apparel brand one8. This year, the two brands have come together for a collaborative sneaker launch. These sneakers take Puma’s classic Basket sneaker style and fuses it with Kohli’s personal aesthetics.
The sneaker's white colourway shows ‘tennis influence’ and the gold stitching on both sides is said to be inspired by the stitching on a cricket ball. The current Virat Kohli euphoria may well prompt Puma to launch the new sneakers in Australia during the India tour. While the Australians might not embrace the shoe with too much enthusiasm, there is today a substantial Indian diaspora in that country who could swipe the card for the 80-dollar-odd sneakers for the love of Kohli.
Whatever it may be, King Kohli is certainly the current flavourite Down Under. It is nice to see him being put on a pedestal by the Australians. It only remains to be seen if the bat of the King remains as prolific and as destructive during the forthcoming tour, further strengthening his personal brand and cementing the legend that is starting to be built around him.
The author is a specialist in celebrity brands, with a PhD in the subject.