Satisfied Dhoni plays down revenge talk
At the start of the series MS Dhoni was under the hammer for being the first Indian captain in 28 years to lose a home series to England, that too after being blanked out on away series in England and Australia. After defeating Australia inside three days and completing a 4-0 sweep for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Dhoni chose to toss a few hammers towards the written press after India's six-wicket victory, but said using the word revenge was all too "confusing."
Even after turning around the 0-4 defeat to Australia in 2011-12, 'revenge' was a word Dhoni had made it a point to avoid all series. "It doesn't matter if it's 0-4, 2-2, 2-0, 3-1... I don't like words like revenge coming out of the series because in the very next question people talk about the spirit of the game. So revenge, spirit of the game - the vocabulary becomes too confusing."
His summary of the series was simpler, "It's better to say that it was a good series for us. There are plenty of individuals who did really well, quite a few bowlers, quite a few batsmen… They got some exposure, they scored runs in difficult conditions."
The disadvantage of having lost the toss in all four Tests meant that India had to bat last in three of the four Tests, but had done enough with the ball in the third innings to keep the target down to reasonable numbers. The Delhi Test may have ended inside three days, but it was here that India had to chase their highest target of the series, 155 runs, on the most treacherous wicket of the four Tests.
"The openers have performed really well. As I said, the conditions were quite difficult for the batsmen to score freely. Shikhar [Dhawan] batted really well in the last game, Vijay batted well over a period of time. So I feel they've done really well. [Cheteshwar] Pujara, I'm really impressed with Pujara. He got injured in the first innings yet he came out to open for us and score those big runs. I think overall I'm very happy with the performance of especially the newer players who've just got a chance to play in this series."
The defeat to England had led to a "tough time", Dhoni said. "You learn a lot more when you're going through a rough period compared to the good times when everything goes your way. I think individuals learnt a lot from the tough period and we were able to implement the learning in this particular series."
The key for India he said was the ability to build partnerships. "When we were batting, we said that what we want is partnerships, we don't want individuals to score hundreds. We laid a lot of emphasis on partnerships. Ultimately, if you earn the kind of partnerships you are talking about, you'll get individuals who will score centuries." Six of the nine century partnerships made in the series belonged to Indian batsmen, along with M Vijay & Pujara's 370 for the second wicket in Hyderabad and Vijay and Dhawan's match-winning 289 in Mohali.
Dhoni came out in support of coach Duncan Fletcher, saying he was "glad he is around" and that this had been the best India had performed during his tenure. "He has had a tough time… but I think he is someone who knows the game really well. His technical knowledge of batting is immense. He is there helping all the youngsters who have come into the team to groom them to do well in different conditions. Specially, I am very happy for him because he has only seen and spent tough periods with us, specially when it comes to days cricket."
The Man of the Series and top wicket-taker R Ashwin, Dhoni said, had been "facing a bit of pressure." For Ashwin to come back "in the right frame of mind" was important. Once again he said, the criticism of Ashwin following the England had been on the similar lines about appraisals of his captaincy. "People talk a lot of different things… the same way if you have a lot of variations, when you are doing well, people talk about those variations but once you are not doing so well and not taking so many wickets, they say he is not consistent, he bowls a lot of variations."
It was important for Ashwin he said, "to back himself" but there had been no pressure on him from the side. "I think that he bowled really well. What was important is that he needs to have his own plans, his own strategies as well as going along with the team's strategies. Being the lead bowler, he performed really well in this series. Whenever we needed an important wicket, he was always there. And if he didn't take it, [Ravindra] Jadeja took it for us. So that really helps, if you have two or three bowlers who give us important breakthroughs at the right time."
He had said newcomer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who bowled 64 overs across eight innings and took six wickets averaging 39.83, had given India important wickets, "especially in the last Test match (Mohali) if I am not wrong… The fact that we won with 2.3 overs to spare, a lot of credit goes to the bunch of bowlers for bowling quickly so that we could generate those extra overs. If we had bowled just 14-15 overs an hour, we wouldn't have got those extra 5-10 overs. The credit goes to them." Bhuvneshwar would be "very effective abroad, especially given that he swings the ball both ways. We will have to wait to see but he has shown especially in the ODIs that if the conditions are slightly helpful, he can really swing the ball."
When asked about his own place at No. 6 in the batting order, Dhoni said, "about No. 6 position, Jadeja has done really well with the ball and slowly he's getting into that thing of scoring runs. He may take a little bit of time but it's very important that we have a youngster like him who can bowl consistently and bat a bit. So that once we go abroad, or different conditions, we can use it and still have five bowlers in the bowling line-up."
About Ajinkya Rahane, who made his Test debut for India in Delhi, Dhoni said, "I don't think he is being considered as an opener. He will bat middle-order."
During the series, Dhoni has been far more animated on the field, in terms of ticking off slow fielders or celebrating wickets. It has marked a change from his otherwise much-celebrated 'cool' unemotional response to victory and defeat. Dhoni said he had "had to change a bit" because of the arrival of younger, inexperienced players in the squad. "The bowling line-up is quite the same, but the batting line-up has changed a lot, almost completely. Which means that you have to tell the youngsters what needs to be done, what went wrong and all those things. You have to change a bit."
Experienced players in the side, he said, "more often than not they know what really went wrong. So you don't have to be vocal at times. But what's important with the new side is that you often have to talk to them, keep telling them what needs to be done, what are the faults. All those small things that really matter. When it comes to operating on the field nothing much has really changed."
He said that it was important to get his younger side, "into a system" with good habits. "Because the habits they get used to right now are what they'll go ahead with. I may not be there in two, three, four years' time. But all these cricketers, they will be around for eight to 10 years. So it's important that they start off with good habits and continue with them, so when the newer generation comes under them, they also just go ahead with the good habits."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo