Dhoni downplays Kingsmead achievement
In typical fashion, MS Dhoni has sought to downplay the Durban win, saying this win is as special as ones that came in Kanpur, Eden Gardens or anywhere else. Just one win, he said, neither justifies the team's No. 1 ranking nor earns the respect here in South Africa, where they were doubted and questioned by the media, the former players and the opposition. "Then what about what we have been doing in the last few years?" Dhoni said. "All those wins have an impact on the confidence and morale of the side."
India came to Durban bruised and battered from Centurion, and lost the toss on an overcast morning. But through some sensible batting and bowling, sensational catching, and a couple of lucky breaks when bowling in the first innings, India - through their first win in a Boxing Day Test - levelled the series. In the process, Dhoni joined Mohammad Azharuddin as the second-most successful Indian Test captain. While Azhar got his 14 wins in 47 Tests, Dhoni's side has taken only 23 Tests to get to that mark, which means that Dhoni's success-rate among players who have captained sides for more than 20 Tests is behind only that of Steve Waugh, Don Bradman, and Ricky Ponting.
"It means I've got a good side," Dhoni said of his captaincy record. "What it means is that we've played consistent cricket over a period of time. We started this process around September 2008 and two years hence we're in a position where we can say we have done well in most places. Of course it's a proud moment. As a team, whether it's batting, bowling or fielding, we've done consistently well. We've taken some good catches despite not being a brilliant ground-fielding side. It feels really good that we've done well together.
"There can be a situation where the team is doing well and the captain is labelled as doing a good job. But it's the 16 guys in the squad that have to perform well as a unit. When it comes to the Indian team, it's about how the youngsters coming in contribute as we face a lot of injuries to the fast bowlers and batsmen also. I'm fortunate to have people who are willing to go onto the field and do their best."
Dhoni quickly moved on to talking of another record that he needs to protect in three days' time, that of never having lost a series as a captain. Four years ago, India went to Cape Town 1-1, but lost on a turning track. "We had a brilliant first innings and then a disappointing second innings, because of which we lost that Test," he said. "It's important to be at our best in all three departments."
The confidence of this side - a departure from the ones before Sourav Ganguly and John Wright started taking India ahead - shows in the kind of track Dhoni is expecting in Cape Town. "The greener the better," he said. "Most of our bowlers are skill bowlers. Even if we bowl only 135 to 140k, we are swing bowlers, which means the greener the wicket the better it is because the bowlers can swing it a bit more."
Dhoni was full of praise for the two key protagonists in this win, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan. "Hopefully it [Laxman's back] will be okay for the next few years," Dhoni said. "We always count on Laxman. Whenever you see him not scoring in a couple of innings, you know something very special is coming. It was one of those wickets where it was quite tough to convince yourself that you're set because one odd ball may do something and get you out. At the end of the day the 96 runs that he made mattered. It would have been lovely if he got to a hundred, but you don't always get what you want."
The bowling unit's reliance on Zaheer - not necessarily for wickets, but also for the leadership - is a bit of a concern, but Dhoni chose to look at the positives. "The youngsters are getting groomed under Zaheer," he said. "Of course, it's the coach's job to groom all the players but when you have someone like Zaheer it reduces the coach's workload by 50%. Also Zaheer is very good under pressure. He doesn't panic in tough situations, and he convinces bowlers about the fields they should set and the lines and lengths they should bowl."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo