By Amlan Chakraborty
DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - Australia may have surrendered the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to India on Tuesday but skipper Steve Smith is happy with the progress his team have made since their home defeat to South Africa late last year.
Australia were still reeling from their 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka when Smith's men were beaten 2-1 by the Proteas, who clinched the series at the second test in Hobart before a revamped home side gained a consolation win at Adelaide Oval.
Many, including former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, predicted a repeat of their 2013 whitewash in India as Australia entered the four-match series having lost their previous nine tests in Asia.
Smith's men had other ideas, however, winning the series opener in Pune before slumping to defeat from a strong position in a spiteful Bangalore encounter and eking out a draw in Ranchi to set up a winner-takes-all decider.
They were then in contention after the first two days of a tit-for-tat battle in Dharamsala until a woeful second innings allowed the hosts to pull away for a 2-1 series triumph on Tuesday.
"I think this team has grown so quickly," Smith told reporters after losing the final test by eight wickets.
"We're still a very young side. It was not too long ago that we were at Hobart and it was the end of the world.
"I'm proud of the way we've been able to turn things around and really compete in these conditions. I know coming over here, I said it a few times, we're being written off, we'd lose 4-0 and all that kind of stuff.
"But the way we've been out here competing in each and every test match, it's been great to be part of a fantastic series."
The positives notwithstanding, the mood in the dressing room was obviously one of disappointment.
"We fought very hard throughout the series and then to fall over at the final hurdle, it hurts. The boys in the room are hurting," Smith added.
"I think we can take a lot from the way we played, the plans we've had and the way we have done it. Perhaps we just needed to do it for a little bit longer at times and be a little more consistent."
Australia will also take heart from the fact they were the only team to beat India in their 13-test home season and Smith, the leading scorer of the series with 499 runs, led by example.
Paceman Pat Cummins' successful return to test cricket after more than five years in the wilderness, called up when spearhead Mitchell Starc abandoned the tour through injury, was another positive from the series.
The 23-year-old generated considerable pace and bounce in his comeback test in Ranchi and troubled the batsmen on a lively track at Dharamsala.
"I was really impressed with Patty Cummins, the pace he was able to generate, both here and in Ranchi on a relatively slow wicket, was absolutely amazing," the Australia captain said.
"The way he was able to bounce guys out in Ranchi was quite phenomenal. He's obviously going to be a big player for us going forward."
"He's a really exciting prospect and I look forward to seeing him bowl in the future."
(Editing by John O'Brien)