'We were outplayed' - Dhoni
MS Dhoni was candid in his post-mortem, after suffering his first Test defeat as India captain. It can be argued that India had started on the backfoot, losing Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma in the lead-up to the match, forcing them to field a sub-par eleven, but Dhoni was not looking for excuses.
"You miss players because of injuries. This was the best available squad at that time. I won't complain about that. We were outplayed in most of the departments, batting you can say, definitely bowling, and also the fielding. Because we were outplayed we are on the losing side. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt," Dhoni said.
India's batsmen found it tough to handle Dale Steyn's pace and movement and his ten-wicket haul played a crucial role in the result. Dhoni was full of praise for South Africa's premier fast bowler.
"The first few overs the way Steyn bowled, where we were three wickets down, most of them were brilliant deliveries. Luckily they got a ball that was really reverse-swinging [after tea on the third day]. That doesn't stop me from giving credit to Steyn," Dhoni said.
"He bowled really well with that ball. He had already bowled 12-15 overs and after that coming back and bowling the way he did was amazing. But in the last 12 months, this was the best display of conventional swing bowling as far as I am concerned. We've seen good reverse-swing but you hardly get to see good conventional swing, especially in India, on tracks like these."
Dhoni went on to compare Steyn's accuracy and ability to swing the ball both ways to Glenn McGrath. "When McGrath used to bowl around the off-stump it was always difficult to leave the ball, and that's what is happening with Steyn. He was getting the ball to go away and from the same spot he was getting it to go in. You just get a fraction of a second to make up your mind and decide what you're planning to do.
"You may end up playing the ball and you may end up getting caught behind or in the slips, like what happened to Gautam Gambhir, first innings got caught behind, the second innings he got bowled."
Dhoni also had words of appreciation for Paul Harris who bottled up one end with his tight left-arm spin and picked up crucial wickets in the second innings. "He can really bind one end for them. He's one bowler who can really bowl 30 overs out of the 90 in the day. You can't look to play, just 30 overs you can block, at some point of time you have to look for runs. At the same time there's not plenty of shots you can offer to that line of attack."
India's woes were not restricted to the batting failures and, in fact, began with the ball. Harbhajan Singh had an ordinary tour of Bangladesh, and could not exert much control in Nagpur either, but Dhoni was confident that his number one spinner would bounce back.
"He's a great bowler and I'm not worried about that. That's what stats suggest, he's been doing really well, you've always seen him come back in big games, he's a big-game player. He's got the experience because of which he knows exactly what to do," Dhoni said.
Dhoni expressed disappointment that his fast-bowlers were unable to extract reverse swing. "If it's a turning track you definitely see loads of spin for the spinners on the second day which means the wicket is dry, so more often than not you see the reverse swing going. The first innings there was a bit of turn, but we couldn't get the reverse swing going.
"When that happens with four bowlers and two fast bowlers they have something to play with. But it never happened for us, it became really tough for the fast bowlers to either contain them or get them out. Hopefully in Kolkata we'll get the reverse swing going. Whatever legal ways are there we tried to get the reverse swing going but it didn't happen for us.
Dhoni was happy with the way the debutants stood up to the challenge. S Badrinath got his spot in the middle order due to Yuvraj Singh's absence and Wriddhiman Saha was hastily drafted in after Rohit Sharma picked an injury, minutes before the start of the match.
"I think they did quite well. Wriddhiman got a brilliant delivery in the first innings and Badrinath also looked quite calm and composed, his approach to Test cricket was good, and in a way it was good for them because they got an opportunity because most of the time, middle-order batsmen don't get an opportunity to play in this Indian team. Of course we missed the experienced players, but it was good to see youngsters getting exposed to international cricket.
Dhoni was banking on VVS Laxman making a comeback to the team for the second Test. "I'm hoping he gets fit. May be, the day after tomorrow, we'll get to know what his scene is. But he's been practising in the nets and we're hoping he gets fit."
Dhoni has been a fan of the six batsmen, four bowlers combination since he took over the reins of the Indian team and stuck by his guns again. "You can always say if four bowlers can't do the job no good reason your fifth can. Same way, you can say if six batsmen can't do the job how can seven? You can pick the side you want to argue. But usually we play with a 2-2 combination and part-timers.
"South Africa has Jacques Kallis who's a specialist allrounder and they play with a 3-1 combination, so you can say they play with four bowlers and have a perfect all-rounder with them, which luxury we don't have. We have to see what is the best combination," Dhoni said.
After Steyn's initial strikes in the first innings, India seemed to be on the road to recovery through Sehwag and Badrinath. Shewag reached a hundred, but threw away his wicket soon after, attempting a big shot, which triggered a collapse. However, Dhoni was unwilling to blame Sehwag for the debacle.
"You can say we lost the game but you can't put the blame on him because that's Sehwag-cricket for you and more often than not he'll win more games then he'll lose. There are other ten batsmen who can fit into the space. One and a half years back if he hadn't played that innings against England in Chennai, we would not have been on the winning side. He has that liberty because he is a match-winner," Dhoni said.
"When he is playing aggressive cricket he puts pressure on the bowlers, they have to shift their lines which may not be their strength. It may look like a rash shot, but that's the kind of cricket he plays, and we should leave it to him because he's very successful in the cricket he plays. It's very difficult to imitate that so I will not recommend that. Sehwag is one of a kind, he's a great batsman and I just love the way he plays, and I hope he gets more and more runs."
The teams now have an extra day off following a four-day finish, before travelling to Kolkata for the final Test, which starts on February 14.