With Ajinkya Rahane sitting out the first two Tests in South Africa, Virat Kohli has now dropped every player in the Test squad at least once, except Hardik Pandya who has just come in and is five Tests old. Kohli, however, will accept no criticism of the XIs he has selected on this tour.
Before the start of the second Test in Centurion, he said "no one" thought Rahane should be in the XI. After their 135-run loss here, he refused to concede any mistakes in his selection of the XIs for the two Tests, but also said he wanted his side to reflect on every decision and every move they have made on the tour. He said he didn't think there was anything wrong with the team's preparations, but he snapped whenever questions concerning selection or India's overseas record or the lack of continuity in the side.
During his post-match press conference, Kohli was asked if he thought he had selected the best XI for the reminiscent-of-home conditions at SuperSport Park, conditions India almost had a template for. The following conversation ensued.
Q: "Last couple of years playing in subcontinent conditions, you got a formula to excel on pitches like these. Fast bowlers from both teams have said this is more like a subcontinent pitch. 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?"
Q: "Was it your best XI?"
Kohli: "But if we had won this, was this the best XI?"
Q: "Again... It's a pitch that was much more subcontinental..."
Kohli: "I'm saying that we don't decide XI according to the results."
Q: "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. 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. You can't pinpoint and say this is the best XI. We played with teams before that have looked really strong and have lost as well. So, I certainly don't bend towards that opinion at all."
Kohli later went on to say it was frustrating things were not coming together for his side. Asked if the chopping and changing might have played a part, Kohli snapped again.
Q: "You spoke about it not coming together well - has that maybe been because of the chopping and changing of selection? 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?"
Q: "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?" [In fact, Kohli has won 20 as captain and lost five, out of 34 he had led in]
Q: "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."
India last won a Test in Australia, England, New Zealand or South Africa in 2014. Since their win in Durban in 2010, India have won only one Test in these countries out of 24. Kohli was asked if he felt India were still the best side in the world. He responded by comparing South Africa's results in India on their last tour in 2015-16, when India won 3-0.
Q: "There is talk of India doing well in India but not overseas. Do you still believe you're the best side in the world?"
Kohli: "Look, we have to believe that we are the best side. Even when we came here, if you don't have the belief that you can win the series here, there is no point coming here. We have not come here just to participate. And answering your question, sir, how many times did South Africa come into the game in India? Coming close to winning games in India? Can you count?"
Q: "That's because of the pitches."
Kohli: "But we are not complaining about Cape Town either. The game was finished in three days, one [day] was a washout. So look, we are not complaining about pitches, we are not complaining about conditions. We have come here to play. As I said, we have had equal opportunities to win in both games, and that's the positive we can take out of it, but I'm not sitting here comforting my guys. So I don't know what you are listening to, but I'm asking everyone to be hard on themselves."
Faf du Plessis, South Africa's captain, has been asking the groundsmen for pitches that will help his side "without being ridiculous". When he was asked about the pitches in India, he felt they bordered on the extreme. When Kohli introduced the "what about South Africa in India" line, du Plessis was sitting in the back of the room, waiting for Kohli's press conference to end before he could speak. This was du Plessis' response to Kohli bringing up 2015-16:
Du Plessis: "Our win rate away from home is the best in the world so we have played some really good cricket. The last time we went to India we didn't play as well, but I do feel the conditions were touching on extreme. For me the way to look at that is even the Indian batting line-up struggled in conditions where their spinners were much better than ours. Every Test match lasted three days [the fourth in Delhi went the distance], and I think there was only one hundred [there were two, both by Ajinkya Rahane in that Delhi Test]. In this series there have been times when it has looked tough, but there have been guys scoring runs and guys taking wickets, so there is always that battle between bat and ball. If you have that, for me it is a good wicket. If it is just dominated by seam or spin bowling then I think the wickets are excessive. If you have all factors in five days or even four days… the first morning at Newlands was tough but then it got good, this got tough at the end of the Test. So yes I think it was touching on the extreme side, but if you get that you still have to try and win. We learnt a lot of lessons from that tour, and I expect that when we go there again, we'll put up a better fight."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo