The message from a dejected and hurting Virat Kohli to the rest of his team-mates is clear: it is unacceptable to lose the way India did in home-like conditions in Centurion despite given a chance to escape by South Africa throwing their wickets in the final session on day one. Kohli asked every individual to reflect on the soft dismissals and errors made by them.
This was widely considered India’s best chance to win a Test in South Africa: the pitch was flat and slow for the first three-and-a-half days, South Africa failed to seize the advantage after winning the toss, India had the best batting conditions of the match to themselves in the first innings, but they let it slip with two silly run-outs, a few loose shots, and dropped catches on the field.
“At the end of the day one team has to lose,” Kohli said. “As a team you always try to win. You can accept defeat but not the way we played, the way we let the advantage slip out of our hand, that is not acceptable from a team’s point of view. So many soft dismissals in one match hurt a lot. Because you work so hard, you prepare for a match, you get into good situations, shift the game towards you, and then the momentum shifts because of these mistakes. That feels very bad as a team. Individuals have to sit and reflect on these things themselves. They do it, I am not saying they don’t reflect on it, but we have repeated these mistakes in both matches.”
Kohli asked the team to be ask itself tough questions. “We have not come here to play the way we have done,” Kohli said. “That is something that we need to definitely speak about. We need to be hard on ourselves. We need to ask ourselves if we are giving 120% for the team every time we bowl a ball or play a ball or field a ball. That is something individuals need to reflect on themselves, but as a team we are definitely going to lay out these things in the open.
“We will ask the guys to be honest about what they were feeling at particular stages in the game. Unless you speak about it and lay it out in front of everyone, there is very little chance of improving. The mistakes that we made have been really about not putting attention to detail at important stages of the game. It is something we definitely need to take into account and sit down and discuss as a team.”
However, Kohli didn’t feel the selections of the XIs in both sides had any bearing on the result. Ajinkya Rahane, India’s best all-conditions Test batsman, has been sitting out on “current form”. It was a shocking move to Indian cricket’s followers the morning Rahane was left out of the first Test, but Kohli said “no one” wanted Rahane in the XI, and the outrage has only come after the results. In this Test, India left out their best bowler from Cape Town, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and also lost out on his batting: he faced the most balls by an India batsman in Cape Town. Kohli was asked if having too many options might have confused them.
“Look when something doesn’t work, obviously it’s going to be spoken against,” Kohli said, pointing to media and fan reaction. “We are pretty used to that. 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. So now no one is talking about that.
“So you know it’s all about whoever goes out on the field and performs. We obviously look at the conditions that we are playing in and we decide as a management group and the captain myself sitting together that what is the best XI that we can take on the field. And then we don’t sit back and think, ‘Oh we could have done that or we should have done that.’ You make one decision and you back it. It’s always that scenario.”
India captain Virat Kohli speaks right after his team lost the Centurion Test, and with it the series in South Africa
While he refused to concede that there needs to be a debate on the XIs, Kohli said the team would need to assess every move it had made on tour. He didn’t agree that more preparation, or coming early to South Africa, might have helped, which somewhat went against his comments about the crowded international schedule, during the home series against Sri Lanka that preceded this tour.
“See, I don’t believe in that,” Kohli said when asked if coming early would have helped them counter the conditions better, particularly in Cape Town. “We had a result in three days in Cape Town, and we had no complaints and we really enjoyed the pitch we played on because we had an equal chance of winning the game there. We were not good enough to do that, that’s a different thing, but it wasn’t like we were set a total, the team had declared, and we were outplayed. We had opportunities in both the games, that’s probably the smallest positive that we can think of at this moment.
“Look, I am not going to sit here and try to comfort anyone, we need to be hard on ourselves if we need to do special things. We need to sit down and ask ourselves whether we are giving enough every time that we go out on the field. We should be reflecting on all our decision-making and all the actions that we have made in this game and the previous game and act upon them.”
Kohli said a team needed a certain obsession, a “madness”, to win away from home in such conditions.
“It doesn’t feel nice that you come out and you feel good as a team and then you are not able to execute what you want to,” Kohli said. “It almost has to be a madness to be able to win away from home. And you have to live that every minute, every day of being on tour. As I said it is a very individual thing but we need to discuss this as a team for sure.
“I can’t speak on behalf of selectors as to what they are thinking. Obviously the selectors will come into the conversation as well when we are looking at planning for future tours also because we have a lot of cricket away from home. This was not the only tour. We have to identify all the areas that need improvement. And accordingly act on those. Obviously the selectors are going to be a big part of that conversation.”
Kohli admitted South Africa were the better team irrespective of the conditions, but this defeat hurt a little more because India had conditions in their favour. “Well, we were quite disappointed in Cape Town as well, there was an opportunity to win also,” Kohli said. “Look, Test cricket, it doesn’t matter where you are playing. Teams have beaten us also at home at times but these conditions are something that we are used to playing at and we should have certainly done better than what have.
“Having said that it’s about which team plays collectively better. South Africa collectively were a much better team than us regardless of the pitches we played on. Their bowlers put relentless pressure on us as a batting unit, and their batsmen as well, after losing a few wickets, they would string in a partnership. They showed more character than us.”