'We will continue to back Cheteshwar and Ajinkya because of the kind of players they are, what they have done in Test cricket for India.'
A crestfallen India captain Virat Kohli's defence of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane lacked conviction, as he put the ball in the selection committee's court regarding the future of the two out-of-form senior batters.
Pujara and Rahane failed in five out of six innings and haven't made any tangible contribution throughout the year, save a knock here and there. Thus, after the shock 1-2 series defeat to South Africa, it seems to be all over for the veterans of 95 and 82 games respectively.
“I cannot sit here and talk about what's gonna happen in the future. That's not for me to sit here and discuss. You probably have to speak to the selectors, what they have in mind. This is not my job," said a jaded Kohli, when asked what message is being given to younger players waiting in the wings to replace Rahane and Pujara.
With Pujara and Rahane being his log-time teammates -- the former in fact made his Test debut before him -- it was difficult for Kohli to walk down the treacherous slope where he had to admit that these two are now past their sell by date.
“As I have said before, I will say again, we will continue to back Cheteshwar and Ajinkya because of the kind of players they are, what they have done in Test cricket for India over the years, playing a crucial knock in the second innings (in Johannesburg) as well. These are kind of performances we recognise as a team," Kohli said, but, unlike other times when he forcefully drove home a point, here the words seemed like mere afterthought.
Then it came with a rider.
"What the selectors decide to do, I obviously will not comment sitting here."
Kohli admitted that not being able to beat South Africa in South Africa is disappointing, but he has never believed in 'what if' concepts.
"We are certainly very disappointed as it's natural part of sport, especially for a team that's so driven and believe we can win anywhere in the world. Having done that, it's even more disappointing not to get the result we wanted. That's part of sport. Accept and move on."
But when pointed out that the two defeats don’t really reflect the amount of fight India put in, Kohli said: "That's part of sport. I can't say what would have happened if this would have happened or that would have happened. It's a fact that we lost 1-2. Those balls didn't take edges and didn't come to slips.
"So ifs and buts have no place in sport as such. It’s a beautiful thing that you play one moment at a time and when that moment passes away there's no point thinking about it as there are more and more moments that follow and you have to make sure that you stay in the present and capitalise on all those moments individually."
For Kohli, if they were meant to win, they would have won.
"I won't look back at things that could have gone our way, as if it had to go our way, it would have gone our way. I don't think there's any point focusing on it anymore."
Rishabh Pant's hundred kept India in contention in the third Test and Kolhi praised the wicketkeeper-batter on his knock.
"It was a high quality knock. That's the talent he possesses and we understand the quality he has. He is a special talent and can do special things."
Even amidst all the disappointment, Kohli did not lose his wry sense of humour as he reminded one and all that he is no longer India’s ODI captain when asked how will the Test series defeat affect the team morale in the upcoming three-match 50-over series.
"I can talk from a player's point of view."
It wasn't difficult to understand what he meant.
"Driven and motivated to perform in ODI series. I don't think we will take this into the ODIs."