India have got to be disappointed
Laxman's grace under pressure was one of the enduring images of the series
At ten past four, with mild shadows already beginning to spread across Mohali, the series ended. It was neither special, nor, thanks mainly to anxious moments on the last day of either Test, entirely forgettable. For all the contempt Sourav Ganguly has for the term "moral victory", that is what New Zealand have achieved here. India have underperformed.
England, South Africa and India have all liked to think of themselves as the second-best team in the world recently. But in Test cricket at least, New Zealand may have the strongest claim of all. Save for the one Test they lost in Pakistan on the bomb-interrupted tour, they haven't conceded a series in the last two years. They have won in West Indies, drawn in Sri Lanka and India. They have even held Australia away, and there too they often did most of the running.
Every player from this touring team has spoken highly of the backroom involvement and the planning that goes into their cricket, particularly before leaving the country. To the naked eye, one reason for New Zealand's success has been obvious: they try very hard.
Daryl Tuffey bowled today as if for his life. When Robbie Hart fluffed a catch off his bowling, 19 runs from the follow-on, Tuffey looked like a man whose world has crumbled. He turned around towards the video screen, hands clasped behind head, absorbed his frustration for half a minute and lumbered back to fine leg.
Then he came back with a burning heart (and impeccable line and length) and took two wickets in two balls to put India back in. Forty-five minutes after lunch he had effectively made a match out of nothing. He had bowled 15 overs, unchanged, for 25 runs and five wickets - six if you count his spectacular run-out of Anil Kumble, which opened the door in the first place. What a performance.
Daniel Vettori showed equal skill and commitment. Throughout the series, he has outbowled the Indian spinners. He turned and bounced it more than Harbhajan Singh, kept it tighter than Anil Kumble, and showed more variation and stamina than both of them put together. Rahul Dravid said later that the last two days at Mohali provided ample scope for spinners: so much so that India in New Zealand's position would have forced a result. We will never know.
When you think about it, this series had very few turning points. Stephen Fleming must look back at that second evening and the opportunity to score quicker - which would have earned himself 10-15 more overs today. Ganguly might similarly wonder now whether what seemed like a well-timed first-innings declaration at Ahmedabad was in fact half-an-hour too early. Every theory fits in retrospect.
India have got to be disappointed. A strong judgment on Akash Chopra can only be made once he has faced quicker bowling on bowlers' pitches. In that sense, the greatest plus from the series was the form of VVS Laxman. He is looking like he did in 2000-01: like he is never going to get out. He is able to hit the ball on the rise, and with or against the turn. As someone once said of Mohammad Azharuddin, bowling to Laxman can be akin to throwing it at a revolving door. Along with Tuffey and Vettori, Laxman will form the enduring image of an average series.