Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
About three weeks ago the India players looked like they were being led to the gallows. Dispirited, just turning up to take their beating. No matter how ordinary England have been as an ODI side, the comeback, in spirit and in their minds, has been remarkable. This ODI series could easily have ended as an extension of the Tests. Losing can become a habit hard to kick. Sometimes when you lose as badly as they did - their opening stands over the last four Tests added up to 187, only a few more than Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan at Edgbaston - you become your own opposition.
India haven't, and they have improved every game. It needed an inspiring knock, which came from Suresh Raina, to start them off. Two matches later they played the near-perfect ODI. MS Dhoni thinks so, too. "The good thing is, we have kept improving from the first ODI on," he said. "That's definitely a big positive. It was a good toss to win today. The fast bowlers bowled really well initially and gave us those early breakthroughs, because of which we were able to put pressure on their middle order. Overall, I'm very happy. Jinks [Rahane] also got a century. We got an opening partnership. So a complete game for us."
When wins come about so easily for a team that failed to win a single game on their last two ODI tours, when the opposition is so clearly out of their league, it is well advised to not get lulled into a false sense of confidence. However, Dhoni won't have the sense of achievement questioned. He was asked after the match if he felt his side was pushed and tested enough by England, keeping in mind their previous two overseas series and with an eye on the World Cup. "How do you want us to be tested?" an unimpressed Dhoni shot back.
Dhoni went on to say they were not tested because they didn't let England test them. "That's what happens in cricket," Dhoni said. "At times, you get early breakthroughs and you think that your batting or bowling has not been tested. You only get tested when you don't get those breakthroughs. When you don't get those early wickets and then the wicket doesn't help you in middle overs, the spinners find it difficult to get wickets.
"We were not tested because our fast bowlers bowled well initially in the game. Where they didn't bowl well, the spinners took the responsibility. So on and off it was good. Batting, we have kept improving from the first game, which I feel is important. We will only see how much we will be tested. Testing is good, but you don't always want to be tested. You want to win games easily too, you don't always want to hang in until the 49th-50th over."
There had always been a fear that India will forget the Test debacle once they resume winning in the ODIs, or in Tests at home. This has been a strange old tour. India have been hopeless in the last three Tests, England even more so in the ODIs. When asked how much of a consolation this series win would be to India, Dhoni suggested Tests were a different universe, a universe he didn't want to travel to at the moment.
"It's not only that," Dhoni said. "It's not about consolation prizes. It's about winning the series. Once you have lost the Test series, there is no real point thinking about it, because it is done and dusted. With the World Cup coming up, it is very important we start doing well outside the subcontinent. We don't think about what happened in the Test series, and what will happen in the future series."
When you are having a tough tour, and when you are switching formats during that tough tour, this mindset can help arrest a slide. "We kept it simple," Dhoni said. "The change of format helps. The demands are very different. That to some extent eases the pressure."
This win was extra special for Dhoni. He has won the World Cup and Champions Trophy as a captain, but this ODI gave him an accumulative record too. It took him past Mohammad Azharuddin as India's most successful captain in ODIs. Dhoni took the moment to thank the players who have made it possible. "When I started leading the team, I got a fantastic team then, and I have got a fantastic side right now," Dhoni said. "There will be ups and downs, but thanks to everyone. Whoever I have played with. Without their contribution it wouldn't really have been possible. All the senior players I played with and who played under me, followed by the youngsters. I personally feel we are a very good, fantastic ODI side. And there will be ups and downs, but what is important is to keep the intent positive. Thanks to all the players."