Andrew Flintoff rated Sachin Tendulkar’s second innings Test century at Chennai against England as the batting maestro’s career-best and termed his words of gratitude to the visitors for returning to India to play the series after the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai as a extremely touching gesture.
“The one that he scored in Chennai after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai,” the 33-year-old former England all rounder told reporters when asked about the best century scored by the champion batsman in Test cricket.
“We flew back and it was decided that we will play in Chennai. England were in a great position. And we thought we are going to win the Test match. But Sachin had other ideas. He scored a hundred. I am never good at losing. However, at that instance it was fitting that Sachin, who was from Mumbai, hit the winning runs,” he said.
“The best thing is after the game he thanked everyone of the English players for coming back to India. That was quite a poignant moment for me and rest of the boys,” he said after interacting with aspiring cricketers here in a promotional event.
The England team returned home midway through the seven-match ODI series following the three-day terrorist siege of Mumbai before retuning to India to resume the tour and play in the Test series.
Saluting Tendulkar’s longevity in the game, Flintoff wished the batsman many more years of international cricket ahead.
“He’s an amazing man and a successful player. To play for so long as he has and to score so many runs as he has is amazing. He is somebody I have come to respect. I remember I had come to play for Lancashire under-13. And he was making his Test debut. He was only four years older than me. But he has been playing since then.
“I wanted to get him out. I wanted to impress him, get his respect. Good luck to him. Hope he doesn’t stop at 50 (centuries) and goes on and on and on. He’s been a good ambassador for the game,” he added.
On Tendulkar’s comparison with legendary cricketer Don Bradman, he said, “Never played against Bradman. I don’t know. It is wrong in sport to compare heroes. In modern day cricket, Sachin is the best.”
Flintoff said while the retirement of some of greats of the current crop of Indian cricketers would create a hole in the team, the country need not be bothered about it yet.
“It is a big question. I think (especially) when they are still playing and Sachin (Tendulkar) is in the peak of his life, isn’t he? He keeps scoring runs. He could carry on for a long time.
“But you could possibly like Australia had (Matthew) Hayden, (Justin) Langer, (Adam) Gilchrist, (Glenn) McGrath, (Shane) Warne all finished at the same time. It does leave a hole in the side and needs rebuilding process.
“However, India are number one and playing fantastically well. I reckon they can carry on for as long as possible,” he added.
The former all-rounder said being the host, India would be one of the firm favorites for next year’s World Cup in the sub-continent along with Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“I think the sub-continent sides are the favourites – India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka because of the conditions. However, England have also got a chance. Can’t really count out Australia. But again I think India are going to be the favourites on home soil.
“But they are under pressure as Indians expect India to do well all the time and that could be a daunting task,” he said.
Flintoff said though India were favourites, because of their number one tag in Test matches, facing the hosts in home condition would be a tough challenge in their forthcoming series against South Africa.
“India are going to be favourites as they are the number one team in the world. However, South Africa team is strong. But (such is) the depth in India’s batting that they are going to score runs all the time. And once you score 400-500 runs it puts pressure on the opposition.
“I expect India to do well but South Africa is a tough tour. They have got players like Graeme Smith, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis,” said Flintoff.
“(India has a) fine attack. (But) South Africa has got a good batting side (in) Smith, Kallis, A B De Villiers. You got to work hard for the wickets. If Indian batsmen score more runs they can give the bowlers a lot of time to bowl out the opposition,” he said.
Commenting on off-spinner Harbhajan Singh’s back-to-back hundreds against New Zealand, Flintoff said he had the potential to score more runs.
“He is always been able to bat. He has got important runs against England in Tests and ODIs. I think its hard for someone who is labelled as a bowler. After having scored back-to-back centuries, he’ll start thinking I can do this more often, I need to bat higher and higher.
“He hits the ball as hard as anyone. He’s got a good eye. He’s definitely got a talent to score more runs in my opinion,” he added.
Recalling that he had played along side dashing batsman Virender Sehwag in a World XI match against Australia, Flintoff said the Indian opener was a phenomenal cricketer.