Dhoni upbeat despite missed opportunity
Unless the new FTP throws up another tour to South Africa very soon, or India discover three middle-order batsmen as good as Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, this tour could well be their best chance to win a series in South Africa for the foreseeable future. It is a chance they missed out on after having fought hard to come back in Durban, and, more importantly, having attained a dominant position in Cape Town. Yet MS Dhoni, while conceding this was a really good chance of registering that elusive series win, said he wasn't bitterly disappointed.
"We were in a position where we could have done something really special," Dhoni said. "It could have been the first day of the first Test or yesterday where if we had got one more wicket quickly, it would have looked really different. There might have been a stiff target to chase, but we would have fancied our chances. It wouldn't have been really boring. Everyone tries to give his best, but at times things like these happen."
Dhoni said if the side had applied itself a little better in Centurion, where they disintegrated on a damp pitch, the series would have looked completely different. "We were always confident about doing well. What was important was to get outplayed rather than play bad cricket as a team. Bad start; could have applied ourselves better and got 50-60 more. But apart from that, we said to ourselves we should take care of the small things. That's what we did as a team. It is a very special series; we saw plenty of good performances from individuals in both the batting and bowling departments."
About letting the game slip away on the fourth day, Dhoni said he was disappointed on two counts: the partnership between Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, and then the extra runs that the tail added. "We were in a position where we could have been chasing 260-270 if we had got that extra wicket, but were not able to. Kallis batted really well with Boucher, and then [Dale] Steyn also scored runs, which meant we had to chase more than 300, which is very difficult."
The positive, he said, was the mental strength the side showed when it was down and written off. "We can still come back if we are 0-1 down in the series. The catching was brilliant throughout ... The fielding standard was quite good. But plenty to improve. Trying to improve in every game as a team."
Dhoni was happy with the fast bowling, but said they still could improve with the old ball when reverse-swing is not available. "Most of our fast bowlers are skill-oriented, rely on swing. It's not always with pace that we get batsmen out. They did a good job with the new ball, but we need to slightly improve after 40 overs especially with Kookaburra because there is no reverse. Interesting learning experience for our young bowlers. Overall, their performance was good."
This could also be India's last Test with Gary Kirsten as their coach, and Dhoni made his appreciation for the former South Africa opener very clear. "I wanted to Gary to do this press conference, but it seems to have slipped out of his mind. He has gone back home. He is getting old.
"We have had some fantastic times with him. He was one guy who didn't know much about Indian cricket as far as the dressing room is concerned. Most of the players have that aura. It is very difficult to come with a fixed mind. He came in with no plans; he came to see what individuals do and then made a plan, which worked for us. We were very free under him. Most of the credit should go to him also. Especially when being an India coach, all the media glare is on you.
"One of the great things that happened to Indian cricket. I don't know if this is his last Test as India coach but every member loves him and acknowledges and respects the amount of time and devotion that he has given Indian cricket."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo