India set for emotional Tendulkar finale at Wankhede
New Delhi: Sachin Tendulkar is set for an emotional farewell when he plays his 200th and final Test at home in Mumbai from Thursday, exactly 24 years after he began his record-breaking career.
Former team-mates, one-time opponents and even his mother will join fans at the Wankhede stadium to acclaim the world`s leading Test and one-day batsman, and the only one to score 100 international centuries.
Speaking at a function on Monday to celebrate his career, Tendulkar gave some insight into the famous work ethic that has enabled him to play on to the age of 40, long beyond his contemporaries.
"I think every step was different, every tournament required different type of preparations," he said in Mumbai.
"Without preparations, things wouldn`t have been the same."
Since making his debut as a 16-year-old in Karachi in 1989, Tendulkar has become almost a deity for the billion-plus population of India, helping the country win the 2011 World Cup and reach the top of the world rankings.
After racking up a staggering 15,847 runs in his 199 Tests, even his rivals acknowledge that Tendulkar is second only to Sir Donald Bradman in the pantheon of batting greats.
In his final interview before he died in 2001, the Australian said that Tendulkar was the one modern player who came closest to his own legendary batting style.
"It was just his compactness, his stroke production, his technique, it all seemed to gel as far as I was concerned," Bradman said in the 1996 interview.
Brian Lara, one of Tendulkar`s few rivals at the highest summit of the modern game, has flown into India to watch the Indian`s final farewell against the West Indies.
"When I speak about cricket, I will speak about Tendulkar," the former West Indian batsman said.
"Just like you mention Mohammad Ali when you mention boxing and Michael Jordan when it comes to basketball."
Some television channels have been showing wall-to-wall highlights of Tendulkar`s greatest moments since the weekend, and the build-up to his last match has dominated the front as well as the back pages.
Billboards and murals of Tendulkar have been sprouting across India as the country prepares to bid goodbye to a man whose off-pitch humility as well as his on-field achievements are a source of national pride.
Such has been the clamour for tickets that the main online vendor collapsed within minutes of sales opening on Monday. Organisers say they could have sold out many times over.
"Basically Sachin means everything to me because cricket has been my life," said Yatin Joshi, a self-styled "Sachin Superfan" who lives in Tendulkar`s hometown.
"And as we say cricket has been my religion and Sachin is my God. So everything revolves around Sachin, so any, all happiness, sadness, you know, go along with how he does on the field and off the field," he told AFP.
Even Britain`s Prince Charles, currently visiting India, has been caught up in the hype.
"He is a master. I wish him a very happy retirement," Charles responded when asked by reporters about Tendulkar`s final Test.
Tendulkar`s aged mother, Rajni, will be watching her son for the first time after organisers built a special ramp to accommodate her wheelchair at the Wankhede.
The superstitious Rajni has previously worried that her presence at a match would bring Sachin bad luck.
For all his record-breaking feats, it has not gone unnoticed that Tendulkar has struggled for form in recent years.
The last of his 51 Test centuries came way back in January 2011 against South Africa.
"If I was in his shoes, I would have gone a year earlier," former skipper Sourav Ganguly said at the weekend.
Ganguly said the man dubbed the "Little Master" had managed to keep his place in the team despite such a barren run of form "only because he is Sachin Tendulkar".
But Ganguly, who captained Tendulkar for a large chunk of his career, said that his former teammate`s greatness was not in doubt.
"But for me, it does not matter whether he gets a hundred or not in his final Test. He will still be one of the best. He will always be a champion."