“I’m here to answer your questions, not to fight with you.” Virat Kohli would utter that line at the end of his second back-and-forth with a reporter during the heated post series-loss press conference. Both times the issue was the playing eleven.
On Wednesday at Centurion, Kohli, after his first series loss, was getting an idea about the scrutiny a defeated Indian captain goes through. He wasn’t ducking the questions but everyone wasn’t convinced by his answers. It was a half-an-hour interaction that explained why MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly got alarmingly grey after away tours. Two of the most successful skippers had their moments but they couldn’t get past Indian cricket’s final frontier – series wins in South Africa and Australia.
Kohli’s team had a chance to create history. The year that will see them travel abroad extensively has started disastrously. Two botched-up chases in pursuing very achievable below-300 targets—208 in Newlands and 287 in Centurion— had resulted in losses and the subsequent media grilling about his decisions.
The insistence with Shikhar Dhawan as opener in the first Test, dropping of Ajinkya Rahane and leaving out Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test; these have been the trending topics since the time the Test series started. So very early in the press conference, Kohli would be asked about the playing XI.
Here’s the first of the Q&A.
Reporter: Last couple of years playing in subcontinent conditions, you got a formula to excel on pitches like these. How much does this loss hurt that despite having that formula, you could perhaps not get the best XI out and win this match?
Kohli: What’s the best XI?
Reporter: Was it your best XI?
Kohli: But if we had won this, was this the best XI?
Reporter: Again…It’s a pitch that was much more subcontinental…
Kohli: I’m saying that we don’t decide XI according to the results.
Reporter: My question was about the pitch…
Kohli: But you’re saying… you’re telling me we could have played the best XI. So you tell me the best XI and we’ll play that. I’m saying the loss obviously hurts. But you make one decision and you back it. We certainly don’t sit here and say, ‘oh if you fail in one game you are not good enough to be at this level or…’ Once the team loses. Didn’t we lose in India? We had the best XI there .
Kohli would go on to underplay the playing XI selection, making it almost irrelevant by saying, “Whoever plays should be good enough to go out there and do the job for the team. That’s why we’ve got such a big squad. Because we believe in their abilities and they are good enough to be at this level but you need to do that collectively as a team.”
However, it was the one sarcastic line – “So you tell me the best XI and we’ll play that” – that gave a peep into the mind of a disappointed captain. When it came to a more direct “why Rohit and not Rahane” question, he said he was expecting a debate on that issue.
“We as a team don’t think of what the opinion going around is, and I’ve clarified that before also. There are many people that are involved in making a decision for the playing XI. A lot was spoken about Bhuvi as well but Shami performed in this game.”
Now, it was the South African media’s turn to talk about the playing XI. A local reporter would point to Kohli’s scissor hands.
Reporter: In over 30 Tests that you have been captain, you have changed your starting line-up in each and every Test you have played. To win Test matches you need consistency, and you have been lacking that part. What would you put that down to, and how would you say that you will continue changing your team and still expect different results?
Kohli: How many Test matches have we won out of 34?
Reporter: In how many have you changed the XI?
Kohli: How many have we won? How many have we won? 21 wins. Two losses. How many draws?
Reporter: How many in India?
Kohli: Does it matter? Wherever we play we try to do our best. I’m here to answer your questions, not to fight with you.
Well, it does matter.
P.S: India in SA -Played 19, Won 2, Lost 10, Drawn 7. SA in India-Played 16, Won 5, Lost 8, Drawn 3.