The unseasonal rain here that washed out England's chances of levelling the series on Saturday has not dampened their spirits. Another series may have been lost, this time 1-0, but with a whitewash widely predicted, they return home for Christmas from India a far better side than they arrived.
Evidence of this, although sketchy in the first Test, has been particularly strong here in the final one, which England could well have won had the weather not intervened. Although this match would not have got as far as it did without the use of floodlights – less than three sessions would have been played in natural light – England dominated every day, even when Sachin Tendulkar was at the crease.
It was this unpalatable truth, that later saw the Indian Board president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, launch a raft of panic measures – from fitness camps to putting his captain Sourav Ganguly on trial in the forthcoming one-dayers – to stem what he sees as the complacent culture in Indian cricket.
In some ways, victories off the field are greater than the ones on it. India may have the higher-ranked talent, but England's have shown that cricket, when played by eager, industrious and information-hungry youngsters, can still be a team game.
Although it eventually spited them, England did get lucky with the weather here, which greened up the pitch and provided heavy cloud cover for their seam bowlers. Such conditions made a monkey out of India's selection of three spinners, but England looked confident throughout, something even the Aussies find difficult to fake when it is not backed up by performance.
The power behind this transformation is their inspirational captain, Nasser Hussain, who has thought hard and planned carefully. Despite criticism and the early loss in Mohali, he never once wavered from his lines of inquiry, a fundamentalist zeal that turned a mixture of green and under-performing county pros into Test players able to compete favourably in conditions they had only heard about in folklore.
Hussain's rigid targeting of Tendulkar, where he largely played the man not the ball, has not been pretty or popular. Picking on the little master in the way he did, Hussain was re-enforcing what Tendulkar's monopoly of both TV adverts and the nation's hearts had already made plain: that England considered them a one-man batting side.
Naturally, tampering with Tendulkar on home soil provoked widespread outrage, though he still made 307 runs at an average of 76 in the series. Yet even Hussain's critics, and there have been many, have to admit it has been effective, especially in a country where visiting bowlers tend to be as effective as Tim Henman's second serve on clay.
"We bowled out India for 291 in the last Test and 238 here," said Hussain, defending his tactics yesterday. "Eleven months ago, an Australian side with Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie played here against the same batting line-up and conceded 570 for 6, with VVS Laxman making 280-odd."
Warming to his own defence, Hussain could not help resorting to some spirited sarcasm, adding: "So what some of you are telling me is not only do I have to come here with an inexperienced side, but I've got to ask the opposition where they'd like me to bowl it at them. Do you honestly expect me to come to India without a game plan like previous England sides? If you like, I'll let people bowl wherever they like next time we come here, then let's see where it gets us."
Simplicity is the key to getting your troops to follow your orders to the letter. Once Ashley Giles was fit, it was simply a case of him being the Immodium and blocking up one end, while Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard tried to flush batsmen out from the other. If it sounds basic, remember that each moving part – Giles with his Achilles problem, Hoggard with just two Tests under his belt before this tour and Flintoff not even on the tour to start with – was an unknown quantity, and quality.
"The biggest gain is the team morale and spirit we built up here," said Hussain. "In India, sides can grow apart, but we grew together. There was no siege mentality and everyone enjoyed being here."
Part-magician and part-huckster, Hussain has turned base metal into something far more precious: the foundations for a future England team. He is also part-pragmatist, and before it is set in stone, players such as Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Alec Stewart will not all be discarded, despite England coping without them.
Giving suckers even breaks does not happen in sport-hungry cultures such as Australia. But if talent in England has yet to queue up in the same way, Stewart's recent comments making himself available for the one-day series here in January reveal he is clearly worried by the quantum leaps being made by James Foster.
In just three Test matches, Foster has grown to a point that would have taken him three years to reach in county cricket, going from louche undergraduate to focused stumper and determined late middle-order batsman. Stewart's sudden availability, played down yesterday as a throwaway comment, was not exactly greeted with joy by Hussain.
"It's nice to hear Alec has made himself available for the one-dayers, but unless I'm going mad, the squad has already been selected," Hussain said. "Foster still has a lot to learn, but at least he knows he can score runs for England. Like Australia with Adam Gilchrist, I think we've been spoiled by having an Alec Stewart around. James doesn't have to be Alec Stewart yet, but he does have to be him in three years' time."
A year ago, after England's famous victory in the Karachi dusk, some of us likened Hussain to Mike Brearley, England's most revered captain in recent times. But saddled with a callow side and distracted by security issues that later proved unfounded, Hussain has gone beyond Brearley, who had the likes of Botham, Willis, Gower and Gooch all near their peaks.
But having set his sights so firmly on the future, Hussain must not now return to the past. To do so would be to betray those who sat at his knee and learned what it took to play hard and walk tall.
Final day; England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 336 (M P Vaughan 64, M R Ramprakash 58; J Srinath 4-73).
INDIA First innings
(Friday: 218 for 7)
A Kumble c Trescothick b Flintoff 14
76 mins, 42 balls, 2 fours
Harbhajan Singh c Hussain b Hoggard 8
35 mins, 27 balls
Sarandeep Singh run out 4
22 mins, 16 balls
J Srinath not out 2
9 mins, 5 balls
Extras (b4, lb4, nb3) 11
Total (408 mins, 94.3 overs) 238
Fall (cont): 8-228 (Kumble), 9-235 (Harbhajan Singh).
Bowling: Hoggard 24.3-7-80-4 (6-3-16-0, 12-2-41-2, 6.3-2-23-2); Flintoff 28-9-50-4 (nb2) (7-1-17-2, 13-5-25-1, 1-1-0-0, 7-2-8-1); Giles 34-18-74-1 (27-16-34-0, 7-2-40-1); White 8-2-26-0 (nb1) (6-2-21-0, 2-0-5-0).
Progress: Fourth day: Rain delayed start until 2.15pm. Innings closed: 2.54pm.
ENGLAND Second Innings
M A Butcher not out 23
36 mins, 25 balls, 2 fours
M E Trescothick not out 9
36 mins, 18 balls
Extras (b1) 1
Total (0 wkt, 36 mins, 7.1 overs) 33
Did not bat: *N Hussain, M P Vaughan, M R Ramprakash, A Flintoff, C White, ÝJ S Foster, A F Giles, R K J Dawson, M J Hoggard.
Bowling: Srinath 4-0-19-0; Ganguly 3-0-12-0; Harbhajan Singh 0.1-0-1-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Fourth day: Rain stopped play 3.51pm-close. Fifth day: No play.
Umpires: E A R de Silva (Sri Lanka) and A V Jayaprakash.
Man of the match: A Flintoff.
Man of the series: S R Tendulkar.Reuse content