New Zealand v India, 3rd Test, Wellington, 5th day April 7, 2009

'We have set the benchmark' - Dhoni

At 4:31 pm local time, the public announcement system at the Basin Reserve confirmed that the New Zealand weather had had its final say in the series. It didn't alter the final outcome of the series, but there was no mad rush for stumps as souvenirs, there were no loud victory cries, there were no hugs or high-fives out on the field. India had won a Test series in New Zealand for the first time in more than 41 years, and it seemed that history had crept up slowly.

India's disappointment was evident at not winning the Test, despite a charismatic spell of legspin bowling from Sachin Tendulkar, who combined really well with Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan, with 16 wickets, ended as the highest wicket-taker in the series. "Of course it is a bit disappointing not to win this Test," captain MS Dhoni said.

But the obvious question was whether India brought it upon themselves by declaring too late, despite having known the forecast for rain. India were 531 ahead when they started the fourth day, but batted on for half a session. India perhaps didn't want to leave anything to chance after having come so close. "You can't really bank on the weather," Dhoni said. "What we were expecting was a minimum of 110 overs. But we didn't even get that much. And it is about the mindset as well. When you have that extra 80-odd runs on the board, you can have those extra catching fielders hanging around for a longer duration of time.

"What we wanted to do in the second innings was to attack, attack and attack so that even if one ball goes in the air, you want a fielder to catch it. That's only possible when you have the extra 70-80 runs. You don't want to change your plan, whatever position you are in. With two days of play, we knew it may rain, but at that point of time, it was not certain. With the amount of wind that goes around, there was a very good chance that the clouds would have been blown away also."

The safety-first approach highlighted India's lack of success overseas. The value of this win was immense and its enormity is beginning to be understood. "It's a fantastic atmosphere [in the dressing room], can't get better," Dhoni said.

"We have set the benchmark," Dhoni said. "Next time when we come to New Zealand, people expect you to win. You have achieved something that's big, but the tough part is to maintain it, to sustain it. It never gets easy for a cricketer. If you have not achieved something, there's pressure on you to achieve it. Once you have achieved it, there is pressure to sustain it. Nothing comes easy, it will be tougher for the guys who come on the next tour."

Dhoni said the most satisfying bit of the whole tour was that it was a team effort, with almost everybody contributing at some point or time or other. "Contributions came when they were needed," he said. "Wickets were on the flatter side, there wasn't much in it for the bowlers, so they have to keep on changing their plans and improvising at times. The same applied with the batsmen as well. Overall, the effort by the bowlers was really great, and the lower-order contribution is very important because that really takes the morale of the team up. Whenever it was really needed from them, the lower-order contributed.

"We didn't rely on one specific individual, everybody contributed. Each and every batsman scored at some point in the series and the same applies to the bowlers also. At times, there was one end, which was not favouring the seamers, maybe because of the wind or not much help from the wicket. Still, bowling your heart out from that end, you really need quite a determined body and mind to do that. Quite happy with the performance overall."

There were a few individuals, who did better than the rest: Virender Sehwag in the one-dayers, and Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan during the Tests. But every face that left the dressing room, about 40 minutes after the post-match presentation and the mandatory press-conferences got over, had satisfaction written across it. Each team member had worked hard over the last 50 days to achieve the historic win.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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