The victory of the lambs

Just moments after what was arguably his finest hour, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made a poignant and deeply symbolic gesture. "Sabse chota kaun hai?" (Who's the youngest?) he asked when the team assembled on the podium to pose with the CB Series trophy. Nothing could have summed up India's triumph better, underpinning the value of the untried and untested. The sight of little Piyush Chawla, the youngest member, holding the trophy aloft captured the theme of the series.

It marked the end of a highly-charged tour littered with controversy. How fitting that the one-day triumph came exactly two months after the third day of the acrimonious Sydney Test, the eruption whose effects were felt through the series. But the Indian team did in splendid manner, swinging in Perth, fighting in Adelaide and shattering expectations through the one-day series. Leaving aside the first Test and one-off Twenty20 - both in Melbourne - they were competitive in every match.

The self-belief was evident through the tour. Dhoni grinned when asked about his side doing the unthinkable. "How higher would you take expectations? First tell me that." Eight of the finalists hadn't played a one-dayer in Australia before this trip and Manoj Tiwary was yet to debut. Here were a bunch of lambs ready for the slaughter.

India rode on experience during the Test series. Batsmen had responded because they had been in similar positions before; bowlers had fought back because, in Anil Kumble's words, "we've played enough cricket to know that a Test match can change very quickly".

The one-day series squad was picked amid controversy. Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa were included despite doing very little in the domestic circuit. Sourav Ganguly was jettisoned. Rahul Dravid was ignored. And a couple of selectors let it be known privately that it was a team picked at Dhoni's behest.

India don't rebuild too well, partly because teams haven't been granted enough latitude through the demanding phases. Youngsters have often been thrown in the deep, only for poor results to mess up the successions plan.

Greg Chappell's plan to put together a young side backfired when the losses piled up. Ditto in 1999, when a few greenhorns were tried in Australia, only to have their careers derailed. Youngsters fresh from domestic cricket have often found the transition too rough. A string of demoralising defeats - like in South Africa late in 2006 - would have blurred the selectors' vision.

Where would the runs come from? Who had the technique to counter the swinging ball? Who could guide a chase? Didn't this side have too many chinks? What this side did have, though, was balance. Often they played five bowlers, a luxury that often tilts the way teams play. For the last few years, India's one-day side has relied on an in-form Irfan Pathan, not so much for what he contributes but the options that open up with him in the side.

Agility on the field helped. No way would India have competed in the giant Australian arenas with a sluggish side. Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik didn't get a game but the energy levels perked up when they were on as substitutes. Tiwary made a couple of fine saves in the final and Chawla held his nerve to pouch a smart catch in the dying stages.

The fielders backed up what was a sustained bowling effort. An outstanding strike bowler (Ishant Sharma) was complemented by a duo who stuck to the basics (Pathan and Harbhajan Singh). Praveen Kumar and Chawla held their nerve in the final while Sreesanth and Munaf Patel did their bit when called upon. They swung it in daylight and swung it more under floodlights. They were up against a wobbly top order, with Australia's batsmen not at the peak of their confidence, but the Indian bowlers ensured that they stayed there.

The batsmen didn't shine as bright - and it needed the mastery of Sachin Tendulkar to carry them through the finals - but the signs were promising. Every one of the batting line-up showed the willingness to change his game. Rohit carved out responsible fifties in the league phase before charging along in the first final; Uthappa blitzed a fifty in Sydney before patiently laying a platform in the final.

Gautam Gambhir showed he could rip upper-cuts with the mightiest of biffs and charged spinners ferociously. Importantly he backed himself when under the hammer. Don't forget Pathan's cameos, both in the top and lower order.

More than anything don't forget Dhoni. He's copped the blame for backing players - picking Tiwary on a 'gut' feel, sticking to Yuvraj despite the lean patch, throwing newcomers in the deep end - but struck gold. After going down to Australia in Adelaide he insisted that Yuvraj would play every match; a match-winning 76 was to justify his faith two days later.

Within six months of being handed captaincy Dhoni has won the World Twenty20, beaten Pakistan and claimed the CB Series. He's injected a sense of fearlessness and backed youngsters all the way. Eight years ago, from the rubble of the match-fixing scandal, another Indian captain began his tenure similarly. It was hailed as a new dawn. What an irony that Ganguly's one-day career is all but over with Dhoni's side beginning a mouth-watering new chapter.