'Never seen so many injuries'
In the end it felt somewhat ridiculous to face MS Dhoni. To sit in front of a proud man, who went 10 matches without a win, in three different formats, during the last two months in England. To ask questions of a man who had seen incredibly ten of his players get injured including two - Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel - on the eve of, and during the final match of the series? What could he really say that had not been said before? Yet within six months after becoming World Champions, India have slid to No. 5 five in the ICC ODI rankings. And so Dhoni faced the media scrutiny for one last time on a tour that he admitted he would never forget.
"I have never seen so many injuries in the last five years. To lose nine to eleven players in one series is something I can never forget," Dhoni said at the post-match conference. Praveen, his best bowler on the tour, had picked an ankle injury while playing football on Thursday afternoon. And about 24 hours later Munaf, India's senior-most bowler in the game, slipped on the wet outfield, badly injuring his ankle. India started the summer with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma leading their bowling attack. They finished it with relying on part-timers like Virat Kohli being forced to fill their boots.
Unfortunately for the Indian bowlers, despite having a good score to defend, they were handicapped by the combined forces of an incessant mild drizzle, and dew which made it difficult to grip the ball. At the time Munaf got injured, the game still hung in balance with England needing a further 139 runs from the remaining 17 overs. "Munaf got injured and we had to bowl his remaining four overs by someone else. Virat bowled well but his last over was expensive. We lost five tosses and we bowled second in nearly the same conditions, which were wet and that made it tough for our spinners," Dhoni said.
Unlike England who had the luxury of playing five specialist fast bowlers across the summer and blooding young talent like Jade Dernbach, in addition to possessing a formidable group of allrounders, Dhoni was forced to manage resources that depleted after every match. The frailty of his bowling attack only added pressure on the batting order, which featured just three of the players from the World Cup team.
"We had a tough series and lost quite badly. Being a team sport you need to do well in all three departments and you can't really carry the team for a consistent period of time just on one department. Playing with three bowlers in these conditions was tough to manoeuvre," Dhoni said.
Yet all is not lost. The most heartening facet about the youngsters, some who were called up at short notice and forced to play hours after landing in England, was their positive attitude and openness. "They are up for a fight," Dhoni said. "Each time they turn up on a field, whether for a practice session or a game, they want to give their best, they love challenges and that makes it interesting for me. You do not have to motivate them. You can then put in that effort in some other areas. We lost a few games due to the weather not [being] on our side, luck not [being on our] side, but it is not about thinking too much about things not in our control. Am glad to see the team has reacted in a similar fashion."
Kohli is a good example of this grit and determination of the new generation of Indian players, who are hungry and willing to work hard despite all the easy riches that have come their way through the IPL. Today Kohli, often criticised in the past for his temperament and a loud lifestyle outside cricket, showed the maturity to stand up and deliver when it mattered for his team. It was a matter of pride for him, and India, that he was the solitary centurion on both sides in the one-day series. Many times during the summer, England's players have highlighted the advantages of a happy dressing room. Despites various setbacks the Indians have shown willingness to learn from, and, contribute to the success of their teammates. They also have been fortunate to be led by an individual who believes in keeping things simple, and does not get swayed by the swinging fortunes of victory and defeat.
For 66 days Dhoni's captaincy came under the most severe scrutiny. England had beaten India on the field and in the mind. There was never a moment in the series when England appeared within reach. Yet Dhoni kept going even as his most trusted generals and lieutenants started falling one after the other. In the end he finished as the Man of the Series in the five-match ODI series. It was the fifth time in his career he had earned this honour, the only difference this being it was the first time it had come in defeat.
On Friday Dhoni was asked if the series would have taken a different course for the Indians, who fly back home early Saturday morning empty-handed, if they had cashed in on the openings that came their way during England's first innings in the first two Tests at Lord's and then Trent Bridge. "What is important is what you did exactly when the opportunity came your way," Dhoni said. "I have always believed it is not about sulking as to what could have been done. It is more often about what actually went wrong."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo