As much as India have exerted control and dominance over Australia in this series, the last stretch towards a six-wicket victory in Mohali rattled their nerves. India were coasting towards the target of 133 with their openers putting on 42 in 9.2 overs, and the third-wicket partnership between Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar adding 33 in 8.2. At the start of the last mandatory hour of play, India had set themselves 45 off 15 overs. When Kohli fell with the score on 103, India needed 30 off 56 balls. The new man MS Dhoni struggled to rotate the strike against a fired-up Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc, and the scoring rate began to fall.
At the end of the game, Dhoni said it had got close and he did not want to gamble in that position by launching into his signature big hits, even though Australia had packed the inner ring with single-saving fielders ."Yes it got close. If you see I don't gamble, but the stakes were high in the sense we had everything to lose and literally we had nothing to gain."
He agreed that India did stand to gain "satisfaction that we are winning one more Test match", but it had been Australia's gains that played on his mind. "But the Aussies, if they had won, it would have given them a chance to come back into the series." Several other factors, he said, played on his mind: that India were without one batsman, due to an injury to Shikhar Dhawan, as well as "the fact that from No. 7 to 11, we had not exactly scored a lot of runs. All these things play at the back of your head."
Dhoni said it was important that India had set batsmen to take them through the last three or four overs. "Even if we need six runs an over for three to four overs, you can try to explode and lose a few wickets -it doesn't really matter but that was not the case. We lost M Vijay when there was a sound partnership and kept losing wickets at regular intervals. So it got close with one batsman less [Dhawan], the lower order is not really performing well. We were under a bit of pressure."
Dhoni said it had been Dhawan's high-speed Test century on debut, along with his 289-opening stand with Vijay, that had given India the momentum they needed in the match. "What was important for him was to play his natural game. He backed himself to play a few shots… Also the pace at which both the openers scored, that was important because we didn't bat the same amount of overs but we got more runs than Australia."
There was a distinct possibility, Dhoni said, that Dhawan "may not" play in Delhi, his hometown, and that the lure of a 4-0 whitewash was not going to be a factor going into the last Test. "You have to see the stakes. Everyone wants to win a million-dollar lottery but it depends on whether you buy a ticket for five dollars or five-hundred. You have to weigh everything. Because what you want is a series win to start off. And that's the most crucial thing. It doesn't matter what has happened in last series."
Dhoni said the main difference with the home series against England was the failure of the Indian batsmen then to not score runs consistently. "It is important to put the runs on board for the bowlers. The pressure of 500-550 runs is a very different kind of pressure."
The series result against Australia, Dhoni added, would have little bearing on the winter tour of South Africa because of the duration between the two. "In India people talk of span of memory and the next series we have got is ages away. I don't think anyone will remember what we have done in this series. The interval is too long to carry forward this memory. Maybe some people will make an half-an-hour show on the last series that we played but overall I don't think common people will carry this memory for that long."
The decision to drop Harbhajan Singh and pick Pragyan Ojha, Dhoni said, had to do with the fact that Australia had reduced the number of left-handers in their side, bringing in the right-handed Brad Haddin for the injured Matthew Wade. Dhoni made it clear that the decision to leave out Ojha had to do with the India's "horses for courses" approach. "It's not like Pragyan was left out because he was not bowling well, he has bowled really well in the last series… but you can say it was that horses for courses kind of thing. Since [Ravindra] Jadeja is also someone who is bowling well for us, we thought with [two other] offspinners we could put pressure on opposition."
Talking about the bowling combination that may play the final Test in Delhi, Dhoni said, "[Whether or not] Delhi will be same or Bhajji comes in, we have to see because we will also have to provide Pragyan the same amount of chances in the Test matches."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo