NEW: Sachin Tendulkar makes tearful farewell to cricket Saturday
The legendary Indian batsman is one of the greatest cricketers of all time
An icon in India, his net worth is estimated to be in the region of $160 million
Tendulkar was playing his 200th Test match as India beat West Indies
Every sport has its gods.
In boxing it’s Muhammad Ali, in soccer it’s Brazil’s Pele and in basketball it’s Michael Jordan, but this week India, already a country with no shortage of deities, paid homage to cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
The 40-year-old’s final bow as a professional cricketer came Saturday as India completed an innings and 186 run victory over the West Indies on his home Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
Tendulkar’s part in the proceedings on the final day amounted to a couple of overs of bowling, cheered to the rafters by a packed stadium, which could have sold out 10 times over.
After the final West Indies wicket fell, a tearful Tendulkar held court with an emotional speech in which he thanked everyone who had supported him, particularly his father, who passed away in 1999.
“Without his guidance I don’t think I would be standing in front of you,” he said.
Tributes also followed for his mother, his wife Anjali and their two children before he turned his attention to his fanatical following in India.
“I know there are so many guys who’ve fasted for me, prayed for me, done all sorts of things for me. Without all that life wouldn’t have been like this for me,” he said.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and say that time has gone by rather quickly, but the memories that you’ve left with me will always be with me forever and ever.”
Many in the crowd were left in tears and they roared out his name in approval, grateful for his incredible career which saw him become the first man to score 100 international centuries.
A further century proved out of Tendulkar’s reach in his final Test, dismissed for 74 Friday as India took command of a match they wrapped up the next day to win the series 2-0.
But his fans will forgive him this relative “failure” because Tendulkar is not just a sports star, but also an icon in a country of more than 1.2 billion people.
His fans often wave placards at matches that read, “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God.” Himself a devout Hindu, the diminutive 5-feet 5-inch all-rounder was well-known throughout his career as a modest superstar who never lost his cool either at the batting crease or in front of the cameras and fans.
Former India captain Rahul Dravid told CNN that Tendulkar would be remembered as “the benchmark” against which all the nation’s cricketers measured themselves.
In a game where 100 runs – or a century – is regarded as the high-water mark of batting achievement in any match at any level, Tendulkar last year reached 100 hundreds at international level and now holds almost all coveted batting records except for cricket legend Don Bradman’s career average of 99.94 runs.
Even “The Don” as he is known in Australia – the cricketing prodigy of the 1930s and ’40s who was still alive when Tendulkar made his Test debut in 1989 – once remarked on the Little Master’s prodigious talent.
“I saw him playing on the television and I was very, very struck by his technique. I asked my wife to come and have a look at him. Because, I said, I never saw myself play, but I feel that this feller is playing much the same as I used to play … It was just his compactness, his stroke production, his technique, it all seemed to gel as far as I was concerned,” Bradman told reporters.
Completing his stellar career, Tendulkar scored 15,921 runs in 200 Test matches at an average of 53.78 each innings, and 18,426 runs in 463 one-day international matches at 44.83 each time at bat.
Shane Warne – the famous Australian leg spin bowler and another of Bradman’s favorite contemporary cricketers – rated him the greatest player of the modern game.
“Sachin Tendulkar is, in my time, the best player without a doubt – daylight second, Brian Lara third,” said Warne, who said of the Indian that it was “a pleasure bowling to him.”
Australian cricket commentator Gideon Haigh said Tendulkar was well-known for his grace under pressure in a sport better known in modern times for its towering egos.
“Certainly, he has left a strong imprint on his cricket contemporaries,” Haigh wrote in The Australian newspaper. “They knew him, for example, for never throwing his bat after a dismissal; he would sit down in the dressing room, reflect, but never brood.”
In India, his popularity has reached beyond cricket’s stadiums and – with a career unsullied by controversy or scandal – he has become a marketer’s dream.
With a net worth of about $160 million from endorsements, property and cricket earnings, according to Singapore-based Wealth X, Tendulkar is cricket’s richest player and the country’s biggest icon.
Walk into any shopping mall in India, and there’s a good chance you will see Tendulkar on a poster or a billboard. He endorses 17 products including Canon, Visa and Adidas.
Canon has spent $50 million on advertising over the past five years – and half of that on Tendulkar alone.
“It has worked phenomenally,” Canon India’s senior vice president Alok Bharadwaj told CNN. “We notice that the awareness of our brand is improving and since people respect him a lot there’s almost a subtle admission that if Sachin is saying it, then it has to be true.”
Tendulkar is known to be choosey about what he endorses and will not, for instance, put his name to alcohol, despite large offers from corporations
Despite his commercial success, the “Little Master” says it’s always been about the cricket.
“The fact was that it was all happening because of cricket and my focus always stayed on cricket, the rest of these things happened around cricket and even today cricket is the focal point, cricket is the ultimate thing for me … it’s that simple,” he told CNN in an interview in 2008.
CNN’s Gary Morley also contributed to this report.