New Delhi: There was an eerie sense of emptiness even as cricketers, past and present, today paid rich tributes to Sachin Tendulkar as he decided to call time on his illustrious career after playing in his landmark 200th Test next month.
Tributes poured in from across the cricketing world, complementing the batting legend for giving fans many, many cheerful moments.
"It has left such a big hole to fill in the Indian Test batting line-up. It wouldn`t be easy to replace him. See what happened after Laxman, Ganguly and Dravid retired, it would take time for the middle-order to gel," said former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar.
"Number four position in Indian cricket has been with some of the greats. Whoever bats at number four, he is going to be under a lot of pressure and will have to live upto huge expectations," added Gavaskar.
Tendulkar, regarded as the greatest batsman in contemporary cricket, today called it quits from Test cricket after the West Indies series, bringing the curtains down on an extraordinary career spanning a marathon 24 years.
Gavaskar said he was convinced that Tendulkar would achieve greatness when he first saw him bat in the nets.
"It is hard to imagine any player in the history of the game who combines classical technique with raw aggression like the little champion does. There is not a single shot he cannot play," he said.
Another former India captain and Tendulkar`s long-time teammate, Sourav Ganguly said the 40-year-old made the right decision by announcing his retirement before the start of the West Indies series.
"It`s the right decision and he has done it at the right time. I am very happy that he has done it before the start of the series. I will request the people of this country to come for these Two Test matches, whether in Kolkata or Mumbai, just to show their respect to this great man," said Ganguly.
Mohammad Azharuddin, former captain and a Lok Sabha MP, said Tendulkar`s decision wasn`t surprising.
"It was coming for sure but I didn`t have the clue as to when it was coming. But it`s his decision and we must respect it. We should remember his playing career as something that always gave us joy and made us proud," he told.
"I first saw him during a Hyderabad versus Mumbai Ranji
match where he batted well. And then saw his daredevilry against Abdul Qadir from the dressing room. A lot of people had talent but what made him different was passion," Azharuddin said.
Asked about his most memorable Tendulkar moment, he said, "There are many but obviously the 1996 Cape Town Test match where we both scored centuries. The SA attack had Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Brain McMillan and Lance Klusener and we literally thrashed them during a particular period."
Ganguly said India earned the respect of the cricketing world because of the way Tendulkar played against Australia, England and Pakistan overseas.
"India earned the respect after 2000 because of the way he played overseas against Australia, England, Pakistan and other places around the world. He was instrumental in that. For me that is the biggest contribution."
"His innings in Sydney in 2003 was the best. His entire innings of 240 in the final Test in Sydney, not one single cover drive, that shows the ability of the man and his mental strength."
Spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan called it a "bad day" for cricket.
"I think it's a bad day for Indian cricket, world cricket as well. We won't see Sachin any more in the playing kit. He is retiring on his own terms," Muralitharan said.
"Definitely, we always wanted to have Sachin's wicket. Every opposition looks forward to getting him out. Most of the times, he had won the battle. He was such a great player. Difficult to single out any moment," the Sri Lankan added.
Describing Tendulkar as the greatest cricketer the country has produced, former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar said the batting great's decision came as a surprise.
"Sachin is the greatest cricketer India has produced and a fantastic role model for all cricketers with his demeanour on and off the field. He has set almost all the records in all formats and has had one of the greatest careers in the history of the game," said the former chief selector.
"I did not really expect him to retire. I thought he will play all through the year (season). He's chosen to go on a high after the 200th Test," the 116-Test veteran added.
Former captain Chandu Borde, who was team's coach during Tendulkar's debut tour to Pakistan in 1989, praised the little man saying his dedication towards the game made him the greatest
"I saw him during India's tour to Pakistan in 1989. I have never seen cricketer who took the game so seriously. On his first tour itself, he would not leave the practice field till the time the groundsman used to tell us that its was to wrap up."
Another ex-India skipper Kris Srikkanth said: "First of all hats off to a man who will be playing his 200 Tests and has 100 international centuries against his name. I was lucky to captain him during his debut tour. He came across as a calm and a composed person. The way he handled him as a 16-year-old was amazing.
The best thing about him is he is the same old gentleman he was in 1989 given he has achieved great cricketing success."
Ex-chief selector Kiran More and Tendulkar's former India and Mumbai teammate Abey Kuruvilla also hailed him as India's greatest cricketer.
"I know he's retired from ODIs and T20s, but now when we sit in front of television (after his 20 0th Test) we will miss his presence altogether for the first time after 24 years. It was always going to be a difficult decision for him, but now that he's taken it we should respect it," said the former India stumper.
"He's been a perfect role model without any hint of controversy. He is the greatest sportsman from India and cricket is so popular in the country because of Sachin," the Baroda-based More said.
Manoj Tiwary, who has been in and out of the Indian team due to various injuries, remembers how Tendulkar arranged for his shoulder surgery in UK back in 2007.
"I came back from Bangladesh with a shoulder dislocation and Paaji (that's how juniors in Indian team refer to him) was leaving for Test series. He enquired from local manager and called me up and asked about what I am doing with my rehab," Tiwary recollected.
"I said I was going to Mumbai to get a surgery done by Dr Anant Joshi. Paaji immediately spoke to Dr Andrew Wallace in London and arranged for an appointment and surgery. That was something I could never forget."
Former India captain Ajit Wadekar felt Tendulkar could
have continued for one more year.
"I thought he could have continued for one more year. But like Vijay Merchant (former India opener) had always said you should retire when people are asking why (did you retire) and not why not (retire). That's the way it is," said the stylish yesteryear one-down batsman.
According to Wadekar, "Tendulkar is the greatest ever cricketer in the world. I don't think anyone can overtake his records and the phenomenal number of runs he has scored. He was also so humble and never responded to criticism, choosing to let his bat do the talking".
Former Test stumper Sameer Dighe said it was a very emotional feeling from a personal and admirer's point of view.
"It's a perfect decision, I think, but still a very emotional thing for me. It was eventually his call. He has given so much pleasure to all of us for the last 24-25 years. He will always remain a legend of the game," said Dighe.