Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Virat Kohli wasn't offering any excuses at the end of India's 3-2 ODI series defeat at the hands of Australia. Not dew, or the fact that a fair bit of time and effort during the series was spent on trying out different combinations keeping the World Cup in mind. He also said nobody in the dressing room was "panicking" after losing an ODI series at home just before the World Cup, as they were "pretty clear" about the XI for the world tournament.
"None of the guys in the change room are panicking, the support staff is not feeling down after this defeat," Kohli said at the post-match press conference. "Because we know the things that we were wanting to do in these last three games, but purely because now it's only the World Cup after this in the one-day competition. We as a side feel balanced, it's just that in the pressure moments, they [Australia] showed more composure than us.
"As a side, combination-wise, we are pretty sorted condition-based. Maximum one change, you'll get to see condition-based. But other than that, the XI we want to play, we are pretty clear about it."
India fiddled with their XI through the series and often juggled between experimenting with different combinations and finding a way to secure the series. Among the batsmen, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Kedar Jadhav and Kohli himself played all five matches, and so did allrounder Vijay Shankar. MS Dhoni, however, was rested for the last two ODIs, which opened the door for Rishabh Pant, who scored 52 runs in two innings. KL Rahul got just one game while Ambati Rayudu three.
In the decider, India went in with five pure bowling options by leaving out Rahul for Mohammed Shami and played Ravindra Jadeja at No. 7. Kohli didn't offer experimentation as an excuse for India conceding the series after being 2-0 up.
"The last three games, the idea was to give the guys on the bench and the fringe guys a bit of game time as well and just put them in those positions and see how they react," he said at the post-match presentation.
"And you couldn't have tried that anywhere else apart from those three games. That is not an excuse at all because we expect to raise our standard of cricket. The changes [in the playing XI] is not an excuse. It will never be an excuse. But we used these three games to give game time to guys who we think are good enough to perform at this level."
Kohli also refused to blame the dew, which hindered the bowlers particularly in the fourth ODI in Mohali, for India's series defeat and instead credited Australia for dealing with pressure much better than the hosts did.
"These are our conditions, we can't be weighed down by our own conditions," he said. "They were more composed in the pressure moments. They were more, I would say, positive and brave in the pressure situations, and hence they won those important moments in the game. And when you capitalise on probably every important moment that comes in the game as a side, it gets very difficult to go past that side.
"So even the way they batted in Mohali after [Glenn] Maxwell got out, chasing 130-odd in 13 overs was an outstanding effort. Even here [in Delhi], and in Ranchi as well, there was constant pressure on us throughout, and the areas they bowled really made us play the shots that we played. Credit has to be given where it's due. And we certainly were not up to the mark, and they were and as I said, they were deserving winners."
The next assignment for the Indian players is the IPL, which begins on March 23, and Kohli said that the onus will be on the individual player to approach the franchise if he needs a break in a bid to stay fresh for the World Cup. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had echoed his captain's views on the eve of the third ODI in Ranchi, saying the players will be wary of workload management in the IPL.
"We've given the responsibility to the player to be smart and to inform the management of the franchise and be in touch with Patrick [Farhart], our physio," Kohli said. "All the workload will be monitored during the World Cup - and given a window, the guys can afford to rest.
"I can guarantee that because a World Cup comes every four years and we play IPL every year. Not to say we won't be committed to the IPL, but we've got to be smart. We have to work in balance and take smart decisions. The responsibility and the onus is on the player. No one will be forced to do something. Eventually, everyone will know no one wants to miss the World Cup and cost the team good balance."