Even as England's cricketers celebrated a deserved series victory in India yesterday – their first in the sub-continent for 28 years – it was difficult to escape the feeling that the combatants in Nagpur were marching in entirely different directions.
For England, there was a renewed sense of confidence, clinical expertise and camaraderie within the ranks, impervious to any off-field distractions from Kevin Pietersen, as they laid down a significant statement in advance of next summer's Ashes action in Blighty.
India, meanwhile, are in disarray, and while there will never be effigies burned of Sachin Tendulkar, the little maestro has not so much mislaid his genius as lost it altogether: his struggles in recent Tests a cruel reminder that nobody, be it a Sobers or Richards, Botham or Ponting, gets better with age once they have advanced into the 30s. Rahul Dravid already has departed on his own terms, following a flurry of hundreds last summer, and VVS Laxman followed suit.
Now, the bell tolls for Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and even Virender Sehwag, whose athleticism, or lack of it in the slip cordon, was only one of the myriad areas where the once feared Indian line-up were exposed over the last month, since the false dawn of their emphatic First Test triumph in Ahmedabad.
To some extent, it is difficult to gauge the scale of England's achievement, considering how fragile and flaky their opponents were as the balance shifted towards the tourists. Despite taking the lead, India's policy of relying on spin over pace was mercilessly exposed when England recalled Monty Panesar, in tandem with Graeme Swann, and that contrasting duo – the Sikh of Tweak and the Tweet of Cheek – duly proved superior to any of their rivals as England seized the initiative with bat and ball and turned the screw in Mumbai and Kolkata.
Dhoni remarked yesterday that he thought James Anderson had been the principal difference between the sides, and the stalwart Lancastrian certainly made a greater impact than any of the other pacemen on slow, flat decks, but the reality was that, in almost every department, for the last three Tests, Alastair Cook and his team were in a different league from their rivals.
Basically, Cook is developing into a true great, Jonathan Trott has a limpet-like obduracy which squeezes the will and enthusiasm out of those attempting to dislodge him, Ian Bell is a class act, and Pietersen, when he concentrates on his strengths at the crease, possesses the rare ability to seize international contests by the scruff of the neck.
When you factor into the equation the emergence of Joe Root, Nick Compton, and the availability of Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow, England's biggest problem is deciding which six to pick, with Matt Prior now the globe's best wicketkeeper-batsman. The depth of resources at Cook's disposal can be emphasised by the fact that Stuart Broad and Steven Finn both missed the fourth Test, and their absence was hardly noticed.
India's next assignment is with the Australians in February, by which stage they should have introduced plenty of fresh faces. But, as for the baggy-green brigade, on the evidence of their winter to date, they must silently be dreading the looming resumption of Ashes hostilities, not least on hearing the news that tickets for The Oval match are already sold out for all five days: the first time this has happened before Christmas.
In their defence, Michael Clarke is a peerless performer, Shane Watson a burgeoning all-rounder, Mike Hussey remains a doughty battler, and David Warner can destroy nearly any attack on any given afternoon. But elsewhere, regardless of the bustling, indefatigable approach of Peter Siddle and the potential of a series of his compatriots, including James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, the Aussies have no spinners, and one or two weaknesses more commonly associated with England.
For starters, as was obvious in how they allowed South African to escape with a draw in the second Test last month when the Proteas were on the ropes, Clarke's personnel lack a killer instinct and inability to rip through tails. Second, and this is a world removed from the attitude of the once-feared Waugh machine, they seem like nice lads.
Which isn't a compliment in modern sport, by the way. Perhaps it should be, but times have changed. And, where once India were able to impose their will on those who travelled to meet them, the balance has shifted 180 degrees.