Even when beaten, Virat Kohli’s body language does not change much. The strides are not heavy, the head is not bowed down, and his t-shirt collars are still standing. If anything, in defeat, there is a defiant manner about him, more so now that he is captain of the Indian team. He may flog them in the dressing room, but outside, in front of the press, he is their last line of defence.

“We just didn’t play good cricket. You can ask me any sort of question or any perception about the loss. We know exactly what happened, and the mistakes that we made. External perceptions don’t matter. They have never mattered to us,” he said in his inimitable bold style after the defeat in Pune.

His words make for some wonderment though. What did he mean by “knowing exactly” what happened? Was it not plain for everyone to see? Did an aspect of that game go missing from the average Indian fan’s intense scrutiny?

Flawed team selection

Never mind an all-round poor performance on the field of play, the abject defeat did leave room for doubt in terms of team selection. This loss was a near replication of India’s last Test defeat, to Sri Lanka in Galle. That match had a lasting impact on Kohli’s thinking as captain. In his short reign, he has mostly formulated plans and strategies as per the five-bowler theory. But when in doubt, Kohli has made it a point to include the sixth batsman.

For some reason, the Indian skipper opted to play five bowlers on a pitch that took turn from ball one. For the same reason, he thought five batsmen could do the job on a raging turner, and decided he didn’t need the cushion of an extra batsman.

“You wouldn’t have asked this question if we had won. Result changes the line of questioning,” he said, when asked in the post-match conference at Pune, if India were one batsman short.

Unlike MS Dhoni, Kohli tends to be forthright in his choice of words, especially once the game is done and dusted. This was a different occasion though – he did not want to divulge his thoughts in detail. Defeat, one as wretched as this, can do that to people.

And this is the underlying point. All the pre-match talk in Pune was about how the match would not last beyond three days, and yet India went in with only five full-time batsmen, getting their selection call wrong. It can be argued that one extra batsman could not have saved them from an embarrassing loss. Yet, Jayant Yadav’s match-return of 2/101 from 23 overs (an economy 4.39), and Ishant Sharma’s lack of overs in the second innings, needs to be emphasised. Simply put, India did not need the fifth bowler in Pune, and Kohli picked the wrong combination for once.

Shuffling your cards

From his very first day as skipper in Adelaide (2014) until now, Kohli’s thinking, and team selection consequently, is a summation of match conditions and expected situations. He has allowed his teammates enough time to get accustomed to this philosophy of chop-and-change, and they have come to accept it whole-heartedly. Now, the dressing room – thanks to ample bench strength – is always in a state of flux.

As such, the Indian captain does not believe in Thomas Bert Lance’s famous phrase – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This is amply evident from his track record of changing playing elevens in each of his 24 Tests. From playing Karn Sharma in Adelaide, to pushing Rohit Sharma at No. 3, to picking Stuart Binny as an all-rounder, to mentoring Jayant Yadav and Hardik Pandya for the fifth bowler role, to rotating his pace bowlers in every Test series, Kohli has tried every combination possible, and he has the results to back up this experimentation.

Perhaps then, this Bengaluru Test will be a first true instance where Kohli has to fix a “broken” playing eleven. Does Jayant Yadav still hold his place, after an indifferent showing in Pune? Should India pick a fifth bowler again, or should they strengthen their line-up after twin collapses? How long can Karun Nair be kept out of the playing eleven?

What is Ishant Sharma’s utility, India’s most experienced Test bowler who only bowled three out of 87 overs in the second Australian innings? Looking to bounce back from a painful defeat, is there a gamble in store for this second Test?

Five bowlers or six batsmen?

“There is no question of dropping Ajinkya Rahane,” opined Anil Kumble on Thursday, putting an end to unnecessary speculation.

The growing perception against Rahane is a classic case of short-termism. This is a batsman who has scored runs everywhere in the world. Even in this home season, he averages 39.35 with 551 runs in eight Tests. This, despite a poor return of 63 runs from three Tests against England. Never mind the drops in Pune, he is also reliably safe at slip to spinners. The source of doubt over his spot in the side is simply unknown.

Kumble’s words – and Kohli’s previously in both Hyderabad and Pune – underline that Nair will only be in contention as and when India decide not to play five bowlers. In Bengaluru this will depend on the pitch, of course.

There has been decent amount of pre-match work done on the wicket, with the green cover shaved off only on Thursday afternoon. It should take turn, but will also be a batting beauty – a typical Chinnaswamy wicket, nothing like what was on offer in the first Test.

It could, thus, prolong Nair’s wait. The pre-match chatter is that the Indian team management wants to revert to wickets seen in the New Zealand and England series, wherein the Indian batsmen would wear down the opposition bowlers, and then the spinners would be unleashed. In such a scenario, Kohli could yet opt for a fifth-bowler again, if the wicket does appear to be true.

But, the combination of his attack could possibly change. The last time India played a Test here, against South Africa in 2015, Stuart Binny was included in the eleven to exploit early morning/late evening moisture. If Kohli wants a similar option now, Bhuvneshwar Kumar comes into the picture, possibly ahead of Ishant Sharma. The lush green outfield on offer here, giving little aid for reverse swing, would put him out of contention.

It still leaves space for a fifth bowler, if Jayant is indeed left out. Left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav is waiting in the wings, and the Indian skipper is not averse to taking risks. Could he be the googly Kohli throws at Steve Smith and company to pull one back in this series?

India (predicted eleven): KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav.