When Sachin Tendulkar completed his final match at the Wankhede, he completed 24 years of service to the country, more than a decade of which was spent with the entire nation glued to their television screens hoping 'God' would deliver. There were times he didn't, proving even heroes are human. But when he did, he brought joy to a billion hearts, dismantled the confidence of the opposition and, more often than not, secured victory for Team India.
As Tendulkar retired on his home ground, he won't go down as the player who served his country the longest, nor will he go down as the batsman with the best average in any format of the game. But he will go down as the highest cumulative run scorer and century-maker in ODI and Test cricket and the sum of these. He has amassed a whole list of other records that are too long to mention.
Debates will still rage over whether he is better than Australia's Don Bradman (who averaged 99.9 in Tests, in contrast to Tendulkar's 53.7). But, Tendulkar played at a time where there were more competitive teams during the rise of different formats. That he succeeded against every cricketing nation, with some of his most memorable knocks coming against the best bowling attacks in the world is proof of his calibre.
Tendulkar's ascendancy coincided with the rise of coloured television and the growth of the Indian economy. In many ways, he will go down as India's first truly global sporting ambassador, but he never let that get in the way of his cricket.
When Tendulkar made his debut in November 1989 at the age of 16, seven of the teammates he played with in his final Test with were less than 6 years old and two of them were more than a year away from being born. How does one sustain such a prolific career without falling prey to the victims of riches and popularity, succumbing to injuries or losing form? For Tendulkar, the answer was always dedication and hard work. Unlike some of his peers, he never took his natural talent for granted, constantly reinvented his game to suit his style and went back to the nets and did the hard yards when the odds were stacked up against him.
There were several moments where we thought 'Will this be the last we see of the Little Master?' But whenever we wrote him off, he came back stronger. As his body took longer to recover in the last few years, he picked and chose his battles but yet remained a pivotal unit of the Indian setup. Thought he only played one Twenty20 International, he formed the linchpin of the domestic Mumbai Indians top order for six years, winning three titles. He played his sixth World Cup, which ended in a winning cause. During his prolific reign, India also grew to become the number one Test and ODI team, extending their dominance outside the sub-continent largely due to his significant contributions.
True, he was given a longer yardstick at times when he encountered purple patches. But in a country devoid of global sporting icons, Sachin Tendulkar was not only an exemplary role model who conducted himself with dignity both on and off the field, but his mere presence in the dressing room was enough to lift the morale of the team. He was always one innings away from another extended prolific run.
As the baton is passed to teammates who have growing up both admiring and emulating him, he has left Indian cricket in able hands. But what a billion people will miss is the tiny 5'5 batsman with a heavy bat hitting immaculate straight drives, punching through the covers, flicking through the leg side and slashing through point at will. What we will also remember is the glint in his eye, the youngster who never grew up and cherished every moment on the cricket field.
What makes him stand tall among the legends of the game is the fact that he did that so consistently, enthralled and inspired a nation and remained one of the most humble human beings and a dedicated family man, despite being the most revered and wealthiest sporting icons for the better part of his career.
Opening the batting with Sourav Ganguly, the 1998 ODI Sharjah storm, the emotional century against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup a few days after the death of his father, the 2003 World Cup campaign, chasing 387 versus England in Chennai in 2008, the 2010 Indian Premier League, 200* against the best South African bowling attack, The 2011 World Cup victory, the final goodbye, 34,000+ runs with 100 centuries and 164 half centuries in 664 international appearances - Sachin Tendulkar, cricket will never be the same without you...thanks for the memories!