Melbourne: In awe of Sachin Tendulkar`s longevity, Australia captain Michael Clarke said the retiring Indian legend has been the "greatest constant" in world cricket for a generation and the best batsman of all time after the "incomparable" Don Bradman.
Tendulkar will be retiring from international cricket at the end of his 200th Test, which is currently being played in his home city of Mumbai against the West Indies.
Paying tribute to the 40-year-old, who has been an international cricketer for 24 years, Clarke said he can`t really believe that the Indian veteran has grown old.
"It is going to be strange looking at an Indian Test side without the name Sachin Tendulkar sitting proudly in the middle order. He has been the greatest constant in world cricket for a generation," Clarke wrote in a his column for `Daily Telegraph`.
"I was still at primary school when he began his Test career and later scored two centuries on his first tour of Australia as an 18-year-old. I played my first Test series against him almost a decade ago and through my whole career have never really thought about him as an ageing player. I can`t believe he is 40," he said.
"I`ve been lucky enough to play with and against some great batsmen but there have been none better than Sachin in my time. Given everything he has done, Sachin would have to be the second best batsman of all time after the incomparable Bradman."
Clarke said according to him Tendulkar`s biggest achievement has been to be an active cricketer for more than 20 years.
"Every time I watch Sachin play he exudes that youthful enthusiasm which highlights just how much he still loves the game, dashing around the field and charging down balls on the boundary," he said.
"So much has been said and written about Sachin`s achievements over years. His record number of Test and one-day runs, his century of international centuries. They are achievements that may never be bettered.
"However I believe his greatest achievement is playing international cricket for almost a quarter of a century. That is phenomenal. To be lining up for his 200th Test is mind boggling," he added.
Clarke said Tendulkar`s longevity is proof of his unflinching passion for the game despite being the most scrutinised cricketer of modern era.
"It highlights an undying affection for the game that goes way beyond just playing. Wanting to get out of bed and go to training with the desire and commitment to keep improving. Getting on another flight and staying in another hotel on the endless merry-
go-round that is modern international cricket," he said.
"Sachin has done it all carrying an unimaginable weight of expectation. India dwarfs the rest of the cricket world when it comes to such a vast depth of passion for the game and Sachin has been the lightning rod for so much of that passion," he added.
Reflecting on his own interactions with the diminutive genius, Clarke said such is his humility that it is hard to believe that the Indian is an icon to the billions.
"...He is such a quiet and unassuming man it is hard to believe this almost reclusive player is the unmatched hero of a billion people. I spent some time with him earlier in my career and even then he was a colossus of the game but you would never have known it," he explained.
"During my debut series in 2004 he signed a pair of his batting gloves for me and I`ve put them away in a safe place at home," he recalled.
Clarke said it was always impossible to work out a gameplan around Tendulkar`s flaws simply because he seemed to have none.
"There was never a weakness to exploit in Sachin`s game. When you sit down and study players, look at their strength and weaknesses, and figure out how to get them out, there was nothing obvious," he said.