Murals of every Virat Kohli century welcomed commuters along Queen's Road. Street vendors selling t-shirts with "Kohli 18" commanded a higher price; you wondered why they even bothered stocking up on anything else. Inside the ground, Kohli standees were erected for fans to pose with. Kohli masks were stuck to seats in certain pockets. On Diwali, Bengaluru had gathered to witness the Kohli show.
But their hero wasn't to be seen until the 11th over. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill feasted on a nervous Netherlands attack. Even at its noisy best, the Chinnaswamy Stadium doesn't have the allure of a packed MCG, but it can certainly be intimidating for those who play much of the year in front of no more than a few hundred patrons. Netherlands seemed like they were.
Initially, it was almost impossible to pick who did it better. Watching the openers on a rampage was as giddying as it was exhilarating. You've come to expect Rohit to begin an innings that way. Yet, when he puts theory into practice, you marvel at the purity and panache of every stroke. You wonder how he makes a slog sweep look beautiful.
Then there's Gill, commanding your attention by playing his trademark short-arm jab with precision. He struck them so clean that even a gentle loft - without putting his forearms to work - peppered the stadium roof. It was pure timing. The magic was in his footwork and how quickly he got to the pitch of the ball. It could have well been a hit on the driving range at the gold course a couple of kilometres down the road.
Each shot elicited a bigger cheer than the previous hit. Ten overs in, how could the crowd possibly have kept this energy going much longer? Surely there was going to be a lull at some stage. But, just as you wondered this, Kohli walked in. The momentary humdrum after Gill's wicket gives way to ever-increasing decibels, filled with sheer anticipation.
It hit a crescendo when their hero bounded out, spot-jogging, playing a series of imaginary copy-book forward defenses, then swerving left and right, adjusting the top of his helmet and taking his trademark leg-stump guard. By now, there was near-hysteria: "Kohli! Kohli! RCB! RCB!"
It truly felt like you were at the Chinnaswamy. How could you be here and not hear the RCB chant, a source of much amusement to every non-RCB fan... This was the same crowd that went "RCB, RCB!" last week when Rachin Ravindra went berserk. Now there were relatively more legit reasons to go "RCB, RCB". And, of course, "Kohli Kohli". The man was right there, in the flesh, ready to rumble.
India had got to 100 off just 11.4 overs. The game situation was right up Kohli's alley. It was as if the stars had aligned perfectly. This was as low-pressure a setting as Kohli could get to try and get #50 "out of the way" before the semi-finals. We'd seen how the pressure of such landmarks could gnaw at the best. Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli's hero, had acknowledged this.
Kohli started scratchily. More than once early on, he wasn't happy with the shape he was maintaining. The timing was off, and he hadn't found the middle. Off his 11th ball, he had the crowd on tenterhooks for a split-second as he tried to break free. The slap fell just short of substitute Shariz Ahmed at mid-off. Kohli wasn't happy with his choice of shot.
Great batters have the knack of not allowing indiscretions like those to chew away at them. Soon enough, there was a bottom-handed whip off Logan van Beek that sent the balls soaring over the wide long-on boundary for six. The crowd, of course, went wild. They could hardly contain themselves. Kohli shovelled the next ball over mid-on. He was up and away.
From there on, he was peerless. He got to a half-century. An air of inevitability was beginning to grow. You could see it coming. ODI century No. 50 seemed very much on. Some in the crowd were preserving their phone batteries to capture the moment. But then, out of nowhere, Roelof van der Merwe slipped one through, and Kohli missed the cut. A hushed silence.
They were anticipating a slice of history. But that wasn't to be. Fans can finally hear themselves after hours of straining their vocal cords to be heard. But not for too long, because Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul have them transfixed for much of the rest of the innings.
They had come in hoping for a Kohli special with the bat. They ended up getting a giddying look at what could lie ahead if India's much-vaulted batting unit fires in unison. It was spectacular, it was grand, it was blockbuster. But Kohli and his fans were not quite done for the night just yet.
Three overs in with the ball, the crowd began their chants of "Ek-do, ek-do, Kohli ko bowling do" (Give Kohli the ball). Occasionally, Kohli turned back to play to the gallery, entertaining them with some funky steps and jigs. When they went "RCB, RCB", Kohli wagged his finger in disapproval and pointed to the "India" on his jersey, and they switched to "India, India".
Kohli was the concertmaster of the orchestra that was the Chinnaswamy. They jived and grooved to everything he did, with the bat and on the field. And then the cherry on the cake...
Kohli came on to bowl in the 23rd over. Sure, Mohammed Siraj was off the field briefly and on another night India may have needed a few filler overs to cover for any issues there. But India didn't need that here, the chase was simply meandering and if they so wished, Rohit could have brought on the frontline bowlers to kill off the chase.
After the game, Rohit and coach Rahul Dravid did say India wanted to try out their part-timers with Hardik Pandya absent injured for the knockouts, but in the moment it felt like Kohli getting the ball was pure vibe. In line with what the crowd wanted. And one over in, he sent them into further ecstasy, drifting an innocuous ball down leg. It was such a poor ball that Kohli appeared to have had hands on his head even as he completed the delivery, only to then realise Scott Edwards had tickled it behind. Up went the finger. Edwards walked, Kohli roared. The crowd followed suit.
Kohli looked up to the dressing room and chuckled. He'd picked up his first ODI wicket in close to a decade. He couldn't have smiled any wider. The crowd had more than its fair share of Kohli. To top it off, India won. They'd served up a perfect nine-on-nine leading into the semi-finals.
No one in those Kohli 18 t-shirts could have asked for more.