The final Test of the series summed up where India and New Zealand stood with regard to history and Test rankings.
India, not having won a Test series in New Zealand for more than 41 years, shed the daredevilry that has become their trademark of late and went for safety first. It showed how much series wins outside the subcontinent, rare as they have been, mean to an Indian team. You can't really dump all the historical baggage.
With a little help from the weather, New Zealand hung on, which will give them some satisfaction, a mini-milestone for a team on a long road to recovery after sudden retirements and an abrupt changing of the guard. The emergence of Jesse Ryder and the return of Chris Martin will be their biggest gains.
The series confirmed the ICC Test rankings, but in Napier, New Zealand showed they could not be written off as a Test side. After their capitulation in Hamilton, a 3-0 result had become a distinct possibility. In application New Zealand might have lacked, in talent they didn't. But as usual they left their followers wondering which was the real New Zealand: one that almost won in Napier or the one that almost lost next week in Wellington? Did they play above themselves in Napier, or did they under-perform in Wellington? We will know over the next year or two.
India as a professional unit did what was required to win the series, as they were expected to. They showed early aggression in Hamilton, character and resolve in Napier, and circumspection, induced by their dismal overseas record, in Wellington. But the way they played the first two Tests is a serious warning to Australia and South Africa; they could play their natural flashy game, but they could just as well bat for close to seven sessions to save a Test.
Gautam Gambhir's batting and Harbhajan Singh's bowling are the big success stories for India. Gambhir showed he could transform his game to any situation, something Rahul Dravid had earlier mentioned was critical to the success of a Test cricketer. Harbhajan showed he could lead the attack, when the pitch offered assistance, as in Hamilton, and that he could play back-up and perform the thankless act of bowling into the wind, as in Wellington.
Another big success for India was that the likes of Dravid and VVS Laxman slipped into a support role with ease. That they did so efficiently, and that their big centuries were not missed, is a good sign for a team that will again be in transition in the near future. Sachin Tendulkar will be 36 in 16 days, Dravid turned 36 three months ago, and Laxman is going on 35. The series win will be most satisfactory for the trio, who were humbled on green tops when they last toured here.
The pitches were much better this time around: even the worst of them produced the most gripping of the matches, in Napier. The ones in Hamilton and Wellington were excellent Test-match wickets, with something in them for skilful bowlers and skilful batsmen. Wellington, especially, was worth a pat on the groundsman's back, because the match started in April, with winter almost in.
The second Indian innings in the Wellington Test featured an event symbolic of what happened through the series and what could be expected in the years to come. Tendulkar walked off to a warm reception from the crowd, who suspected this could be the last time they would watch him bat, but Tendulkar didn't make a special acknowledgement of that reception. "Perhaps they think this is my last tour," he had said earlier during the tour, when asked about the standing ovations wherever he went. You never know with Tendulkar, and who would complain if he came here again? He entertained the crowds to the fullest: wholesome and innovative at the same time, while scoring a century each in the two formats he played in.
The series overall wasn't one that made neutrals sit up and take notice, as did Australia and South Africa in back-to-back series. New Zealand fought over seven days out of the 14 days of cricket. But those seven days made for compelling viewing, Ryder and Daniel Vettori thwarting India's charge on day one, Ryder and Ross Taylor setting up a huge total in Napier, and Martin and Co surprising India on the first day in Wellington. That India survived those days was crucial to the 1-0 result. And those should be the days to remember the series by.