NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli was in the eye of a storm on social media on Thursday after he suggested a local cricket fan relocate to another country for preferring to watch English or Australian batsmen.
The 30-year-old was reading out tweets when he came across one which described Kohli, currently the top ranked test batsman, as “overrated” and that Australian and English batsmen were more pleasing to watch than “these Indians”.
“I don’t think you should live in India then,” Kohli, who has 27.1 million followers on Twitter, said in a video posted on his new app to sell exclusive merchandise.
“You should go and live somewhere else, you know. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country... Get your priorities right,” he added with a wry smile.
Kohli’s comments evoked sharp reactions as people on social media pulled out a 2008 video, in which Kohli, then captain of the India under-19 team, described South African Herschelle Gibbs as his favourite batsman.
Also resurfaced his 2016 tweet in which he had congratulated Angelique Kerber on her Australian Open victory, declaring the German as his favourite women’s tennis player.
“Virat Kohli’s statement is a reflection of the bubble that most famous people either slip into or are forced into,” cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle tweeted.
“The voices within it are frequently those that they wish to hear. It is a comfortable bubble and that is why famous people must try hard to prevent it from forming.”
Married to Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, Kohli is the biggest name in Indian cricket and his face is plastered on billboards across the cricket-obsessed country of 1.3 billion.
A highly successful cricketer with a penchant to get under an opponent’s skin, Kohli is the sole Indian in the Forbes magazine’s 2018 list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes.
He endorses foreign brands including Puma, Audi, Tissot and Uber. One critic posted a picture of Kohli posing with an Audi and suggesting he move to Germany since he loved foreign cars.
Criticism came from India’s movie industry as well.
“If you want to remain #KingKohli it may be time to teach yourself to think ‘What would Dravid say?’ before speaking in future,” actor Siddharth tweeted, referring to former captain Rahul Dravid who was famous for his batting technique and his economy of words.
“What an idiotic set of words to come from an #India #captain!” the actor added.
The cricketer took to Twitter later on Thursday to play down the episode.
“I guess trolling isn’t for me guys, I’ll stick to getting trolled,” Kohli tweeted.
“I spoke about how “these Indians” was mentioned in the comment and that’s all. I’m all for freedom of choice. Keep it light guys and enjoy the festive season. Love and peace to all.”
One fan said Kohli may have had a brain fade moment and should not be attacked.
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Pritha Sarkar