Dravid at No. 3 gives us stability - Dhoni
After losing by an innings and plenty with nearly five sessions left in the game, Daniel Vettori reckoned that India were ready for what he called a "final frontier". South Africa await at Centurion on December 16, and Vettori certainly wasn't writing off India's chances of achieving a first series success there. "I'm not sure on what grounds they are playing," he said. "That will have a huge bearing on it. India are the No. 1 team in the world for a reason and they have started to play exceptionally well overseas."
MS Dhoni didn't talk of the rankings game or final frontiers, but he did say that the wealth of experience within a settled squad could be pivotal as India look to do better than they did in 2006-07, when a poor couple of days in Cape Town cost them the series. "I think adapting to the conditions will be crucial," he said. We don't want to think too far ahead. Utilising the break that we are getting now will also be crucial.
"There are plenty of players who have toured South Africa before, so gaining information from them will be really important. But it will be a team effort. And as a team, we will have to do the basics right."
Dhoni is one of several senior players to be rested for the first two one-day games against New Zealand, and the chances are that quite a few of them will head to South Africa well before the 16th to acclimatise to vastly different conditions. "It [going early] will definitely be good, especially for batsmen, as the bounce there is really different," he said. "What you need to play in India, you need to leave in South Africa. Of course, the bowlers also need a bit of time, but it is the batsmen who need the extra few days, if it's possible."
With the exception of Zaheer Khan, India played their first-choice XI here, and Dhoni admitted that the team were reaping the benefits of keeping faith in a settled core. "At times, we play more than 10 Test matches in nine-ten months time," he said. "Because of injuries, we've sometimes had to leave out a few players. But if you see our best XI, when fitness is not a concern, we play with almost the same team.
"When one or two are not in form and the team is still doing well, then we can give those players the cushion of a couple of extra games to find their form again. It's a real good team environment when that happens."
Having been thwarted by some tenacious New Zealand scrapping in the first two Tests, Dhoni said that he was pleasantly surprised by the manner in which India worked their way through the batting on Tuesday morning. "There was something for the spinners," he said. "And since it was the fourth day, we knew the fast bowlers would get some reverse-swing going too. What was important was to start well in the morning. That was one of the reasons why we declared late.
"We wanted the hard ball for the 10 overs in the evening and also for early morning in case we wanted to use our seamers. We always wanted to use our spinners with the hard ball, because they [can] get some more bounce and turn. It really worked for us and the bowlers bowled really well. And [Suresh] Raina got a couple of wickets, which made it look a bit easy. But I never thought we would be doing a press conference at 1 or 1:30pm."
Vettori looked back on the first-innings debacle that effectively settled the match, and said that Ishant Sharma's return had been as much of a factor as a pitch that gave the spinners more assistance. "The real difference was Sharma," he said. "To take seven wickets on this surface ... we knew we were in for a challenge against spinners but we should have done better against the seamers. It was a pretty flat track for the seamers but for him to come in and do the damage was the real difference between the two teams."
In the absence of Zaheer, his pace-bowling talisman, Dhoni paid tribute to Ishant's perfomance, and also praised Rahul Dravid for the 191 that consolidated the gains made on the first two days. "Rahul, batting at No. 3, gives us the stability. Viru [Virender Sehwag] plays aggressive cricket and gives us momentum. After that, it is the responsibility of Rahul and Sachin [Tendulkar] coming at No. 3 and 4 to give that stability to the innings, based on which the lower order can also contribute.
"As for Ishant, he got injured. We continued with Sreesanth in the first two games. Then Zaheer got injured, and he [Ishant] got his chance. Of course he would have felt a bit of pressure about what will happen once Zaheer comes back. It's important to give your 100% and not look too far ahead. He bowled well, and was also up in the pace department. He also bowled [in] the right spots."
After being extremely critical of the pitches in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad - "You need 10 days for a result," he had said - Dhoni understandably had no issues about the surface in Nagpur. "We just wanted a wicket where there was something for the spinners," he said. "And usually on such a pitch, the fast bowlers can get reverse-swing because it's dry. You can say this was more of an Indian track. It's what you expect in the subcontinent."
Despite securing their third-biggest innings victory, India lose ranking points for winning just one of the three Tests. But with the top-of-the-table clash now on the immediate horizon, it was hugely important that the team bid goodbye to Indian conditions on the right note. "I think we played to 60% of our potential, whatever the reasons were," Dhoni said candidly. "We have the potential to play much better."
They'll certainly need to in South Africa.