Dravid and Dhoni displayed the same character responsible for India's hot chasing streak last year © AFP

As World Cup warm-ups go, this was the ideal one, played out on a sluggish pitch of uneven bounce - conditions fairly similar to what both sides can expect when they pitch their tents in Trinidad in less than four weeks. For India to successfully chase one of those tricky in-between totals against a team that are acknowledged masters of the slow choke was especially creditable, though it must be noted that Sri Lanka were without their two bowling masters, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas.

At 94 for 4, with a well-set Sourav Ganguly also pavilion-bound, there might have been more than the odd frisson of panic in the Indian dressing room. After that tremendous purple patch where they pulled off 17 successful run chases, India had once again lapsed back into geeky-boy-pursuing-fair-maiden mode, with only one win in nine subsequent matches batting second.

The especially memorable triumphs during that hot streak, at Jaipur, Pune and Lahore, were built around perfectly-timed partnerships, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the fore. It was no different today, though it was Rahul Dravid who spearheaded the chase for the most part, with an uncharacteristically restrained Dhoni more than content to tail in his slipstream for much of a 133-run partnership.

Dhoni the batsman is a work in progress, and that's been clearly evident during the course of this series. In the defeat at Rajkot, he struck just one four, off the 67th delivery that he faced. When he fell to a stunning catch a ball later, India fell too, flat on their faces. In Goa, he was just as circumspect, easing to 32 from 49 balls before a miscued swipe at Tillakaratne Dilshan crossed the rope at square leg to give him his first four.

Dhoni could afford to take his time though because Dravid, restored to his best position at No.5, had already chiseled out an accomplished half-century, the 77th of a career that was under more than one cloud just over five years ago. His wicketkeeping skills helped him keep a place in the side back then, and these days, the very idea of India going out to play without him is unthinkable.

Along the way, he also went past 10,000 runs, some achievement for a man who was reckoned to be a one-day misfit in the days when he struggled to adjust to its unique tip-and-run demands. It should come as no surprise then that he leads a team that has more than its fair share of individuals that have stepped back from the precipice.

One of them shone with the ball in the morning. Exactly a year ago, Zaheer Khan had a pathetic one-day series in Pakistan, an overweight and lackluster embarrassment in a team that was playing some sensational cricket. After a practice session indoors in Cape Town just over two months ago, he had spoken sincerely about how time away from the fold had reinforced just how much it meant to play for India.

He's certainly walked the talk since returning, bowling with pace, intelligence and commitment to reclaim his place as India's premier one-day bowler. He was magnificent on Wednesday, spearing in yorkers almost at will, and only Marvan Atapattu played him with any real assurance. More importantly, he was just as effective in both spells, striking three crippling blows at the start and then returning to stifle any thoughts of a late Sri Lankan charge.

Had Russel Arnold got any decent support, Sri Lanka might still have managed the 250 or so that would have posed real questions of this Indian line-up. Arnold has been in and out of the side in recent seasons, and there has been heated debate over his inclusion in the World Cup squad at the expense of the exciting Chamara Kapugedera. If ever a man needed to prove a point, it was Arnold and he did so with the sort of inventive innings that has typified his best work in international cricket.

India's man-under-the-microscope couldn't produce anything similarly substantial. Being named in the 15 for the World Cup in the Caribbean might have removed the dangling sword from over Virender Sehwag's head, but the fallow run that has been his lot since the Champions Trophy half-century against Australia continued. Once again, the mode of dismissal was depressingly predictable. If it isn't the ball nipping back to crash into the stumps, it's the short-pitched delivery that has him jumping like a cat surprised by an air-gun. Unless there's a drastic reversal of fortune, the fast bowlers that congregate in the Caribbean will be licking their collective chops at the prospect of bowling to him.

Ultimately though, this was a hugely important win for India, and not just because it has at least delayed the prospect of a series defeat at home. Those that were on the park in Goa have every chance of lining up for the big games in the Caribbean. Anil Kumble might come in for the odd game, and Irfan Pathan might replace Dinesh Karthik, but for the most part, this XI was as good as it gets. The souvenir T-shirts keep telling you that It's Better in Goa, and to be fair to the Indians, they were pretty good in a less-than-trivial pursuit.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo