After being at the receiving end of a thrashing in the Nagpur Test where India won with five sessions remaining in the game, New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori admitted that his side were outplayed by a vastly superior team, which has a lot of positives to take with it as it embarked on what could be a historic and prosperous series in South Africa. With the Proteas waiting to take the Indians on at Centurion on December 16th, Vettori said India had reached its "final frontier" as the world's No. 1 team. "India are the No. 1 team in the world for a reason and they have started to play exceptionally well overseas, " he said.
Indian skipper M S Dhoni, for his part, said that India had hit upon the right combination of experience and exuberance to give themselves a good chance against South Africa. He believes that India is now a more settled, better-equipped and seasoned side than the one that went down to South Africa in a couple of disappointing days at Cape Town, which cost it the series in 2006-07.
"There are plenty of players who have toured South Africa before, so gaining information from them will be really important," said Dhoni. But it will be a team effort. And as a team, we will have to do the basics right."
Dhoni is one of five senior players to be rested for the first two one-day matches against the Kiwis, and there is a strong likelihood that many among them will be sent to South Africa a few days before the tour opener at Centurion. Dhoni admitted that acclimatising to the vastly different conditions will be crucial to India's chances of doing well. "What you need to play in India, you need to leave in South Africa. Of course, the bowlers also need a bit of time, but it is the batsmen who need the extra few days, if it's possible, " he said.
Dhoni also said that the team has unified like a truly cohesive unit and even when a couple of players are not in peak form and others have been affected with injuries, the core is still settled and strong enough to see that the side prevails in its encounters. "When one or two are not in form and the team is still doing well, then we can give those players the cushion of a couple of extra games to find their form again. It's a real good team environment when that happens," said Dhoni.
Dhoni was especially pleased with the performance of the spinners in the final test, observing that they exploited conditions to their benefit exceptionally well. After being down and out from the grueling back-load of two fiercely-fought drawn tests, they stepped up to the plate when it mattered the most and came out tops.
While looking back at the Kiwis' first innings debacle at Nagpur, Vettori rightly paid tribute to Ishant Sharma's role as the destroyer-in-chief. "To take seven wickets on this surface ... we knew we were in for a challenge against spinners but we should have done better against the seamers", said Vettori. "It was a pretty flat track for the seamers but for him to come in and do the damage was the real difference between the two teams."
Dhoni singled out Dravid's contribution at the top of the order for steadying the innings and consolidating the team's gains with his patient 191. "Rahul, batting at No. 3, gives us the stability. Viru (Virender Sehwag) plays aggressive cricket and gives us momentum. After that, it is the responsibility of Rahul and Sachin coming at No. 3 and 4 to give that stability to the innings, based on which the lower order can also contribute.
So, the die is cast for scintillating series in South Africa. The Proteas will riding high on their strong performances against Pakistan, but perhaps ruing that they couldn't close out a Test match against their opponents with a victory. So, now thier appetites will be whetted as they take on the Test table-toppers and the only team ahead of them in ranking.