Sachin Tendulkar begins a third decade in world cricket next week, insisting he is still as passionate to play for India as he was as a wide-eyed teenager 20 years ago.
"My love for cricket and the honour of playing for my country have kept me motivated all these years," said Tendulkar, 36, ahead of the first Test against Sri Lanka starting in Ahmedabad on Monday.
"Cricket is my life and I am lucky and absolutely honoured that I have been able to wear the India cap for 20 years."
The Ahmedabad match will be Tendulkar's 160th Test appearance -- surpassed only by retired former Australian captain Steve Waugh's tally of 168 -- since his debut aged 16 against Pakistan in Karachi on November 15, 1989.
He has risen to become the world's most successful batsman in both Test and one-day cricket, a result of both his unparalled genius with the bat and amazing longevity in the game.
The world was a different place when Tendulkar began. No one sent e-mails or browsed the world wide web, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, the Soviet Union had not broken up and mobile phones had not become a way of life. When he started, Tendulkar's current captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was an eight-year-old schoolboy and team-mates Ravindra Jadeja and Virat Kohli were barely a few months old.
"We call him 'grandpa' in the dressing room," joked compatriot Yuvraj Singh. "But he is just amazing. He has achieved everything there is to achieve, but still wants to improve with every game.
"Frankly, I can't think of an Indian team without Tendulkar."
Among post-war cricketers whose careers spanned 20 years were Pakistanis Imran Khan and Mushtaq Mohammad, West Indian Garfield Sobers, Colin Cowdrey of England and Bobby Simpson of Australia.
But Tendulkar has scaled the summit, scoring more Test runs (12,773) and centuries (42), and more one-day runs (17,178) and hundreds (45) than any other batsman.
And he is not done yet. One of his cherished dreams is to win the World Cup in front of millions of worshipping home fans when India co-hosts the 2011 showpiece with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Tendulkar has appeared in five World Cups and helped India reach the final in South Africa in 2003, but Sourav Ganguly's men failed to emulate Kapil Dev's winning feat in England in 1983. Tendulkar, born in a middle-class family of a Marathi novelist and named after famous Bollywood music director Sachin Dev Burman, is a multi-millionaire in a country where he is revered like a demi-god.
But retirement has not even crossed his mind despite the wear and tear of a 20-year grind that has left him nursing injuries to the shoulder, elbow, back, hamstring and feet.
"I know there is lot of cricket left in me because I am still enjoying it," said Tendulkar. "I am not thinking of retirement. At some stage, I will have to, but I don't need to think of it right now."
Team-mates and rivals alike rejoice at his feats. Australian spin legend Shane Warne rated Tendulkar as number one on his list of 50 contemporary cricketers prepared for the London-based Times newspaper.
Former captain Ganguly calls him "the king of cricket", West Indian great Viv Richards, one of Tendulkar's childhood heroes, regards him as "99.5 percent perfect."
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara says the Indian is the "greatest modern cricketer."
For his countless fans, Tendulkar is a joy to behold. For there may never be another like him again.
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