SACHIN Tendulkar struggled to hold back the tears as he soaked up the unconditional veneration of an Indian crowd for the last time when the sun set on the master batsman’s glittering 24-year career yesterday.
After his side completed the formalities of an easy win over West Indies, Tendulkar collected a stump as a memento and slowly made his way through a mobile guard of honour formed by his team-mates.
As television coverage broadcast images of a huge banner in the stands proclaiming “Legends Never Retire”, the 40-year-old Tendulkar shook hands with opposing players and staff before climbing the stairs leading to the dressing room.
Tendulkar later returned with his wife Anjali, daughter Sara and son Arjun to make a moving farewell speech at the presentation ceremony before doing a lap of honour on the shoulders of his team-mates.
“All my friends settle down, let me talk. I will get more and more emotional,” he said, his voice almost drowned by chants of “Sachin, Sachin” reverberating around his hometown Wankhede Stadium. “It’s getting little difficult to talk, but I’ll manage.”
Tendulkar, pictured, spoke for more than 20 minutes as the 32,000-strong crowd listened intently with hands folded as if in prayer and eyes moist with tears.
A day after the anniversary of his international debut against Pakistan in Karachi in 1989 as a mop-haired 16-year-old, Tendulkar finished his career as the sport’s most prolific international run-scorer. He leaves the game after playing more Test matches (200), scoring the most Test (15,921) and one-day international (18,426) runs, and compiling more Test (51) and one-day (49) hundreds than any other player.
“My life’s been 22 yards for 24 years. It’s hard to believe that wonderful journey is coming to an end,” he said.
Such was India’s dominance in the Test that Tendulkar was only required to bat once in his final Test, scoring a stylish 74, but he did get to bowl a couple of overs yesterday to at least play an active role in his last day of duty.
Responding to chants of “We want Sachin, We want Sachin” from the packed stadium, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni tossed the ball to Tendulkar, who delighted his home fans with a brief bowling cameo in his 200th Test match.
A crowd-pleasing wicket was not forthcoming but he did show off a full repertoire of deliveries, offering leg-spin, off-spin and an immaculate googly which tail-ender Shane Shillingford somehow fended away.
The regular bowlers returned to finish off a match that will be largely forgotten as a contest, but remembered as a fitting farewell for a man who may be small in stature yet cast a giant shadow of greatness over cricket in India and beyond.