How Pakistan fell deeply in love with Virat Kohli (2024)

Virat Kohli is yet to play a single game in Pakistan. The only time he played there was in 2006 with India’s U-19 side. India stopped its cricketing ties with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks and Kohli has featured in just a handful of internationals against them — 16 ODIs and 10 T20Is. Despite that, Virat Kohli has a massive fan following in Pakistan.

“The day Virat plays in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi or in Multan, only then you guys will understand his craze in Pakistan,” former Pakistan captain Azhar Ali tells The Indian Express.

“You won’t believe but the stadium will be filled with green jerseys, magar peeche naam Babar ya Shaheen ka nahi, Virat ka hoga aur No 18 ke saath (but the name on the backs won’t be Babar Azam or Shaheen Shah Afridi, it will Virat Kohli’s along with his jersey No 18),” laughs Ali.


The ‘deewanapan’ is perhaps best captured by Azhar Ali’s own reaction in the phase when Kohli was out of form. The former Pakistan captain says not a day went by then when he didn’t pray for Kohli’s return to form.

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“When he was out of form, I prayed so many times for him. Allah isko aaj run banane do (Please god let him score). I have prayed for Kohli. I don’t know why but I did consistently for three years,” he laughs. “You will find people, who will criticise Virat’s batting but before criticising him at least try and understand what he has done for over 15 years. There was a dip but he bounced back. I have not seen anyone doing that,” says Azhar.

There have been several occasions during the Pakistan Super League or in Pakistan domestic games where the broadcast has shown fans holding placards with a message for Kohli. In 2019, a motorcyclist in the Pakistani city of Lahore was famously spotted wearing the Pakistan cricket team’s replica shirt for the Cricket World Cup with Kohli’s name on the back. In the same year when Kohli was going through his lean patch, a fan at a Pakistan-Australia cricket match in Karachi was seen holding a placard with a message: “Dear Virat! whether you score a century, or not you’ll always be my hero”.

A fan at the National Stadium Karachi showing some support for Virat Kohli #Cricket

— Saj Sadiq (@SajSadiqCricket) March 12, 2022

Former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif compares Virat’s fandom to Bollywood stars Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan.

“It’s not like that Virat is the first one with such a big fan base in Pakistan,” says Latif. “If you go back, Dilip Kumar had a massive fan following in Pakistan. Sunil Gavaskar became a cult in Pakistan. Young batsmen were told to copy Gavaskarsaab’s technique. Then Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ movies used to get sold out. Then came Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, MS Dhoni. When Dhoni came here his long locks became a trend.


“But Virat’s popularity in Pakistan is on par with Dilipsaab, Mr Bachhan and Shah Rukh. Like in India, you guys loved our bowlers – Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar became household names. Here in Pakistan, we adored Gavaskarsaab, Tendulkar, then Dhoni and now Kohli – they are all icons. Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag too have a good fan following in Pakistan.

“But all said and done, Virat ko le kar deewanapan next level hai.” (The mad-craze over him is another level).

Ahead of the Asia Cup, co-hosted by Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year, a sand artist Sachaan Baloch, from Gawadar in Balochistan province, sketched a portrait of Virat Kohli. The footage of the artist and his work on beach sands went viral on social media. “I just wanted to show my love and respect to Virat. He is the best,” he had then said.

ویرات کولی ءِ اکس گْوادر ءِ تیاب ءَ

ساچان بلوچ ءِ سینڈ آرٹ، ویرات کولی ءِ اکس۔ گْوادر ءِ تیاب دپ ءَ۔ #Gwadar #Balochistan #ViratKohli𓃵 @imVkohli @AsiaCup_23 @ICC

— Gwadar_e_Tawar (@gwadar_e_tawar) September 3, 2023


Azhar Ali says Kohli is famous among the millennials and Gen Z in Pakistan because of the way he has carried himself over the years and his fitness, passion, and aggression.


“Virat run kar le aur Pakistan match jeet jaaye ye maine khud suna hai (Virat can score the runs but Pakistan should win, this I have heard myself),” says Ali.

“First and foremost, he has changed Indian cricket. You can debate that Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni have also played a role. But when it comes to fitness, there is no one like Virat Kohli. He has led by example. He is a role model to all the youths.

“Now in our part of the world, we have someone who is the most fit athlete. Earlier we used to give examples of athletes from the West. Now Virat has set that bar. The Pakistani youths are fascinated by the sacrifices he has made. You see his interviews where he is talking about how he quit having his favourite food (Chole Bhature) for cricket,” he adds.

How Pakistan fell deeply in love with Virat Kohli (2) A Virat Kohli fan in Pakistan during the Asia Cup. (X/Johns.)

The former Pakistan skipper feels it is also the passion and aggression in his game that’s loved in Pakistan.


“We admire him for his passion as well. Everyone knows what he can do with the bat. He is someone who has scored runs against every opponent and in their own backyards as well. He dominated the English bowling attack in 2018, not every Asian batter can do that in English conditions.

“Duniya kehti thi ki Sachin Tendulkar ka record koi nahi tod sakta (People used to Sachin’s record will never be broken). This guy has smashed all of Sachin’s records in the ODIs. It’s unbelievable. In an event, I remember Sachin himself said ‘There is a guy sitting in this room who will break my records”.”

Azhar talks about how Virat never gets complacent, another trait that’s respected across the border.

“We also seen talented youngsters in Pakistan but they end up becoming lost talents. I don’t want to take names but there are plenty. Then you see Virat, most of the cricketers after receiving compliments from Sachin will get relaxed or become complacent. But not Kohli; that comment drove him to make his own name. He has done it,” he says.



When Virat Kohli was struggling for runs, the Pakistani cricketers across the border rallied behind Virat. Current Pakistan captain Babar Azam had tweeted “This too shall pass. Stay strong.” During the 2022 Asia Cup, in a video posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), left-arm seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi can be heard saying to Virat “Hum aapke liye dua kar rahe hai ki aap jaldi form me laute (I am praying for your form).”

The suspense is over! Let’s listen to the conversation between @iShaheenAfridi and @imVkohli 🔊#AsiaCup2022

— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) August 26, 2022

Virat’s unbeaten 82 at the MCG against Pakistan in the 2022 T20 World Cup is best remembered for those two sixes he hit against Haris Rauf. The entire Pakistan media went berserk. In A sports show, The Pavillion, host Fakhar-e-Alam called him “an alien among the men.” Former Pakistan pacer Aquib Javed would rave about Kohli’s first six against Rauf: “No cricketer in the present generation can play that shot”.

Azhar calls it the best T20 knock of all time. “It will go down as the best T20 knock. I don’t think anyone else could have pulled that off. Wo khuda ka banda hai, khuda ne kuch alag baksha hai us bande ko (He is god’s gift and god has given him some unreal talent). There are few people who are blessed. Virat Kohli is one of them. We should respect him till the time he is around.

“I admire him as a complete package and what he has done for cricket for the sub-continent. It’s unfortunate that India and Pakistan are not playing bilaterals. You can’t even imagine the fan following he has here. Youngsters look at his lifestyle, they just want to copy Virat. He is a bonafide star. A random kid in Pakistan will tell you his numbers. I guess we’ll never have another Virat Kohli,” says Azhar.

“Hopefully, we visit Pakistan soon.” A video from 2022 when a support staff member of Indian cricket team arranged a video call for top Pakistani mountaineer @Shehrozekashif2 with @imVkohli. Shehroze posted the video on his instagram yesterday.
Video credit (Instagram:…

— Faizan Lakhani (@faizanlakhani) May 17, 2024

Kohli is 35 now and as things stand, he might never get the chance to play in Pakistan but he does want to go there. In an old video that resurfaced earlier this year, Kohli was having a conversation with the Pakistani mountaineer Shehroze Kashif. “Give my regards to your family and all your friends,” Kohli added, “Hopefully, we visit Pakistan soon, everyone’s started visiting now.”

How Pakistan fell deeply in love with Virat Kohli (2024)
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