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Sachin Tendulkar, world cricket's most prolific international run-scorer, will retire after playing his 200th Test match for India at home against West Indies next month.
"All my life, I have had a dream of playing cricket for India. I have been living this dream every day for the last 24 years," the 40-year-old, who made a record 100 international centuries, said in a statement released by the Indian cricket board (BCCI) on Thursday.
"It's hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it's all I have ever done since I was 11 years old."
Tendulkar, who made his debut against fierce rival Pakistan in 1989 as a 16-year-old, has gone on to make 15,837 runs in 198 Tests (five-day contests between national teams) and 18,246 runs in 463 one-day internationals.
Tendulkar fulfilled his long-cherished dream of winning the World Cup when India won the tournament in 2011 at home, and last December he quit the one-day game to make way for younger players.
"It's been a huge honor to have represented my country and played all over the world. I look forward to playing my 200th Test match on home soil, as I call it a day," he said in the Thursday statement.
Talk of Tendulkar's retirement drew polarized opinions in the cricket-mad nation and speculation was rife after the BCCI announced a two-Test series at home in November against the Caribbean side.
"I thank the BCCI for everything over the years and for permitting me to move on when my heart feels it's time," said Tendulkar.
"I thank my family for their patience and understanding. Most of all, I thank my fans and well-wishers who through their prayers and wishes have given me the strength to go out and perform at my best."
A story freely circulated about Tendulkar holds that for most of his career, the selection committee for India never debated his place in the national team — they merely asked him if he was available.
The Mumbai native has enjoyed the same iconic status off the field ever since his debut. For a star-starved nation disgusted with tainted politicians, Tendulkar's self-discipline, fiercely private family life and controversy-free image make him a role model for India's burgeoning youth population.
It is therefore not surprising that Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's largest political party and a strong candidate to become prime minister next year, was wiped off television channels in the middle of a speech as news of Tendulkar's retirement came in.
Former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad said Tendulkar's dedication made him a guiding light in the sport.
"He is a role model for a generation of cricketers. I keep on telling our youngsters here is a cricketer they can learn so much from. Just learn from the way he has dedicated his life to cricket," said Miandad.
A cricket commentator even described him as India's greatest unifier since Mahatma Gandhi.
Not too far off the mark, as the "god of cricket," as fans call him in India, managed to glue together a fractious parliament, whose members all thumped tables to welcome him as a member of the upper house last year.
Every suggestion that he should step down to pave the way for youngsters in the Indian team has been met with irate reactions from his worshipful fans.
Over the years there have been a few critics who felt he concentrated too much on personal targets, but Tendulkar has never let criticism or negative headlines breach his defense.
"If people throw stones at you, turn them into milestones," he famously said after overtaking Brian Lara as the highest scorer in Tests in 2008.
Since unsuccessful stints as national captain, Tendulkar has eased into the role of senior player, and he was instrumental in Mahendra Singh Dhoni's elevation to the post of skipper.
Virat Kohli, India's emerging batting talent, summed up Tendulkar's contribution to Indian cricket.
"Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders," he said, after the Indian cricketers completed a lap of honor with their master batsman on their shoulders following India's World Cup win at home in 2011.
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