Triumphant Team India returns to a tumultuous welcome
New Delhi: Having watched Gambhir from the best seat in the stadium, Sehwag is convinced that the Delhi left-hander is the best opening batsman India has ever had since Sunil Gavaskar.
It was a profound statement from a man who likes to speak his mind but is measured in his assessment. India has had some quality openers since Gavaskar relinquished the post but none, in the opinion of Sehwag comes anywhere close to his friend and Delhi teammate.
Is Gambhir better than Sehwag too? “Much, much better,” said Sehwag on his return from New Zealand, along with a few other members of the Indian team, in the early hours of Thursday.
“Gambhir is the only opener I have known who is at ease in any form of the game. Gavaskar was a great opener in Tests and one-dayers and Gambhir has adapted wonderfully to the T20 format too. He is just too good.”
Gambhir, with 445 runs in six innings at an average of 89, was the ‘man of the series’ in the Test series against New Zealand which India won 1-0 to script a series win in that country after 41 years.
Sehwag, who has an aggregate of 5757 runs from 69 Tests, was most pleased with the performance of Gambhir. “He was such a delight. His form was awesome. Just see how he kept adapting. I can’t think of anyone better than Gambhir in terms of technique, temperament and style. To me, he is the best opener India has had since Gavaskar.”
With two triple centuries as opener in Tests to his credit, Sehwag, adjudged leading player of 2008 by Wisden, would easily qualify for the post of one of India’s finest openers, possibly the best after Gavaskar.
But the man puts all debate to rest. “See, I was a middle-order batsman who had to take over the opener’s role for certain reasons. Gambhir is an opener. He has been excelling in all forms of the game. He is the best, not me,” emphasised Sehwag.
Sehwag reflected on the series, “It showed that we are a compact team now. The batsmen and the bowlers complement each other. More than the batsmen, I would give credit to our bowlers, Zaheer (Khan) and Harbhajan (Singh) in particular. They were superb.”
Harbhajan rated the series win against New Zealand as one of his finest. He finished with 16 wickets, the highest at an average of 21.37. “I enjoyed because we won. It was very important for me because I was returning from injury. And then we were winning outside India and after 41 years in New Zealand,” Harbhajan said over phone.
Hits out at critics
Hitting out at his critics, Harbhajan said, “This performance was for them. To actually shut them up! If I was making a point, it was for them. Instead of talking rubbish now, if only they had bowled better during their days we would have had better results outside the sub-continent.”
The off-spinner, with 330 wickets from 77 Tests, observed that the conditions in New Zealand were very tough. “The conditions were difficult. There was nothing extraordinary about the pitches but in a place like Wellington, it was so windy that sometimes it threatened to blow you off the field. Against the wind it was a challenge to maintain a steady run-up and control.”
Harbhajan, however, said he enjoyed his stint in New Zealand. “I can safely consider myself as a possible Test all-rounder in future. I have worked very hard on my batting.
“As a bowler, I did not try anything fancy. I only worked at giving more revolutions to the ball and aimed at landing the ball in the right areas. I tried my best and I am happy to have contributed towards the team’s victory.”
Earlier, India’s victorious cricketers returned home in batches in different cities in the wee hours on Thursday.
Charismatic skipper M.S. Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag, medium-pacer Ishant Sharma and leg-spinner Amit Mishra landed at the capital’s Indira Gandhi International airport.
Sachin Tendulkar and four others — Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel and Dhawal Kulkarni — returned to a tumultuous welcome in Mumbai.
Some members of the team’s support staff also landed in Mumbai along with Tendulkar and co.
The south-based cricketers, including stalwarts Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, went directly to their respective cities.
Dhoni and his colleagues were greeted to a tumultuous welcome by a large number of fans who had gathered at the airport.
Sehwag was accompanied by his wife Aarti, while Ishant’s father, Vijay Sharma was there at the airport to receive his son.
Tendulkar says thanks
Tendulkar thanked the countrymen soon after landing in Mumbai, saying the entire nation supported the team in its quest of creating history on Kiwi soil.
“It’s an achievement. Everyone is happy. The entire country has supported us. It was victory after 41 years,” the champion batsman told reporters at the Sahar airport.
Tendulkar made vital contributions with the bat in both the five-match one-day series and the Test rubber.