M Vijay has said that India's recent overseas tours have been instrumental in the team becoming a tighter unit despite the limited on-field success. Since December 2013, India have toured South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and have managed to win only three out of 17 Tests. Their successful tour of Sri Lanka last month was in fact their first away series win since 2011.
"To be honest, the season and a half where we played abroad got us together," Vijay, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, told ESPNcricinfo. "The thought process was similar, and everybody wanted to go in one direction. So, a lot of good things happened to us. [Even when we were losing] the atmosphere never changed. That's one good quality and learning for me as well because no one even showed any hint that he was down and out. Everybody thought we could change from this session [phase].
"Because everybody is on the same wavelength and the same age-group, so it's easy to crack a joke in a tight situation. As a unit we are more tight now. It's a good journey for us. Staying away from home gave us an opportunity to mingle together and go about things in a right way."
This period has also coincided with the rise of India's new batting core comprising Vijay himself, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. "It's been unbelievable because everybody is talented. It's a healthy competition," Vijay said. According to him, such competition was not founded on the premise of one-upmanship, and was instead all about mutual admiration.
"I never think that way [about outscoring others]," Vijay said. "If Shikhar is getting runs, I would like to give him the credit like 'you are batting brilliantly' and vice-versa. That's what he does to me. There's nothing like 'you get 150, I get 180.' It's about going together and going for the same cause."
Vijay felt India's coaching staff, comprising Ravi Shastri, B Arun, R Sridhar and Sanjay Bangar - whose tenures were extended recently - played an equally important role in nurturing such an environment. "They have really helped us in getting a good atmosphere in the dressing room because I feel you should be feeling comfortable inside the dressing room to do well outside.
"Ravi bhai has his own style of putting it across. [He lifts the mood] 100 percent. Just the energy you get onto the table. At the right time, I think, he has come. It's all fallen in place. Obviously, B Arun and R Sridhar as well [have been great]. Everybody is trying to do his best to give us the best atmosphere."
Vijay, who has worked with Bangar at Kings XI Punjab, spoke of him being a sounding board as far as discussions on batting went. "We always try to have a conversation about batting because he's one guy who is never tired of talking about a particular aspect," Vijay said. "More or less everybody, when we are off [the field], we keep discussing, 'Oh, we could have done this, we could have done that.' He has always been there for us, which is good. "
Vijay's role in the Sri Lanka series was limited to the second Test at the P Sara Oval where he scored 0 and 82 in India's 278-run victory. He had missed the first and third Tests with a hamstring injury, and has been working on his fitness ahead of the South Africa series.
"Actually, I'm pretty excited [about the South Africa series] and only one thing I'm concentrating at the moment is my fitness," Vijay said. "I've been working on my rehabilitation. So, I think pretty good three weeks. I am at a good state now. I'm on the right track at the moment, and am happy about it. But, I am not thinking too far ahead because there's a month and a half to go for the Test series.
"Missing couple of Test matches [in Sri Lanka] is tough time for me, but cannot think over it or something like that because injuries do happen in any sport. All I am trying to do is work on my batting basics, my fitness and my fielding aspect of where I am going to stand."
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo