Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
Virat Kohli walked into the post-match media briefing and, clearly and emphatically, pinned the onus of India's defeat at the hands of the batsmen. They were, he said, "tentative" and minus the fearlessness he believed that was required to chase down a total of 176 against Sri Lanka.
India's 63-run defeat after lunch on day four of the Galle Test, which they had controlled for the better part of two days and a session, came about after a horror morning session. India lost six wickets for 55 runs in the space of 28 overs and Kohli said that India were not able to "counter what was being thrown at us. We should have been more smart with how we should have gone about playing the spinners in the second innings."
India came in to bat one wicket down with 153 more to win, for only their fifth victory in a Test in Sri Lanka and Kohli said the team had been, "Let down by our batting. There are no excuses there. The need of the hour in the second innings was to take calculated risk when you are chasing a small total in the fourth innings. Our intent was lacking. We let the opposition in today," Kohli said. He said in the dressing room, "everyone is disappointed" as, "throughout the game we dominated and it is disappointing to be on the losing side."
Kohli cited the example of the Sri Lankan second innings when five down and trailing by more than 100, saying their response was, "a classic case of people going out there and being fearless and our display was a classic case of people going out there and being tentative." He said that approach was the "major difference is us losing the game because we only had, apart from the way we batted today, an hour and a half which was bad in the game for us yesterday. Throughout the game, we dominated and it feels strange to be on the losing side but that is, sadly or unfortunately, Test cricket. You play one bad session and then you could be lagging behind in the race."
He would accept neither the controversial umpiring decisions, the absence of the DRS nor the state of the wicket to couch his reasons for India's defeat. "I don't think the wicket had too many demons in it, cricket is a game of pressure, when the pressure is mounted on you, the wicket looks difficult. If it's not, it looks easy. The wicket did not really change much in all the four innings, to be honest. The turn and the bounce was pretty consistent throughout.
"It was a case of us not playing fearless cricket - we were tentative." Kohli said. He would not talk about umpiring decisions just before lunch on day three. Nor did he agree that the three decisions, two against Man-of-the-Match Dinesh Chandimal and one against Lahiru Thirimane, that helped Sri Lanka set up a partnership to eat up the Indian lead had proved, "dispiriting."
"Well, not at all," Kohli said. "I don't want to speak about things that we cannot control, we kept bowling in the right areas and their batsmen took calculated risks and some risks that had some chances came off. Credit to them, they were able to think clearly."
About the DRS he said, "We are not using DRS in this series. It is not an issue I want to debate on." When the series was over, he said, "we will sit down and figure out how important is it or how much we want to use it. As I said, we only have ourselves to blame. I don't want to get into the debate of DRS or any other issues in this particular game. We should keep the questions to how badly we played today rather than things that are completely out of debate as of now."
The team management was not about to regret their decision to go with five bowlers and Kohli said he did not, at any stage, think he was a batsman short either, as India went down in a heap in 49.5 overs. The intention of playing five bowlers was to keep each man fresh to bowl four or five overs full tilt at every stage of the match and that he had no complaints from his bowlers.
"If I have said I am going to play with five bowlers, I cannot go down after a performance like this and say I wish I had an extra player, you cannot play with 12 players. If I have chosen to play with five bowlers to take 20 wickets then it is our responsibility to bat in a better way which we did not do today. So I am not bringing up any excuses or wishing that we had an extra batsman. We should have done this better with six batsmen."
The difference between the batting in the two innings, he said, had nothing to do with external conditions but just mindset. "Nothing changed in the wicket, the changes that happened [were] in our mindset. Today we were a bit nervous in our approach and that is the only other difference that happened in our approach between the second day and the fourth day."
The specialist batsmen, Kohli said, could have learnt from Amit Mishra, who, other than Rahane, appeared the "most confident batsman out there. He was reading the spinners well and backing himself to get runs while the other batsmen failed." Mishra batted for over 45 minutes, holding his own against the Sri Lankan spinners, spending more time at the crease with greater reward than all but two of the batsmen before him.
The decision to send Harbhajan Singh ahead of R Ashwin was, Kohli said, meant to launch a counterattack, help pick 20-30 runs off and put some pressure back on the home team. India had been in trouble far earlier, though, and Kohli countered questions about the selection of Rohit Sharma in the XI by saying that he had been picked because "you have to back your best players. People that you think can be match-winners for you, you have to back them."
He said Rohit had been given more chances again because "Cheteshwar [Pujara] was going through a phase where he wasn't getting too many runs. So it was a case of giving another batsman a chance. Right now, Rohit has got three-four chances at No. 3. The idea has to been to persist with him." Rohit's miserable record in Sri Lanka, where he averages 14.31 in 21 matches across formats, may not instill much confidence in the batsman.
Kohli did say, though, that there needed to be a discussion as a "batting unit as a whole about what guys are thinking, what the mindset as a whole is like and are they on the same page as far as executing the plans that we want them to. I think it's a case of getting to know every particular batsman's mindset at present and where he stands mentally and how comfortable or how relaxed they are to go out there and play free cricket because that's what eventually the team needs.
"You need people to go out there and play fearless cricket… Today everyone was tentative. You will have a couple of good catches taken, couple of good balls bowled but as long as the intent is there, you are always in the game. But if you are playing in a defensive way as a batting unit throughout the game, then you are always putting yourself under pressure."