16th Mar 2012 12:20pm | By Editor
Leading Test runscorer, most centuries, most admired player of all time – it's hard to know exactly where to start to describe Sachin Tendulkar's impact on cricket.
Perhaps it's the fact that he started so young, with his cute mop of curly hair and his high front elbow, making his debut at the age of 16 against Pakistan's Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in Karachi in 1989.
Or the fact that Don Bradman lavished the ultimate praise on Tendulkar during the 1996 World Cup, as he watched the Little Master on TV and remarked that Tendulkar reminded Bradman of himself.
When the home side claimed victory in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka, it was the 165cm Tendulkar who was lifted upon the shoulders of his team-mates.
The Indian cricket board had organised for the final to be played in Mumbai even though bigger stadiums around the country could have given twice as many fans the chance to see the game.
But the important thing was the Tendulkar could crown his greatness with his 100th international hundred in the World Cup final. Tendulkar was out for 18, but the adulation continued as normal.
As Virat Kohli explained: "He has carried India on his shoulders for 21 years, so it was the least we could do."
Tendulkar is not the stylish strokeplayer he once was. Where before he could peel off boundaries to all parts of the wicket, now it's often a case of playing the waiting game, forcing the impatient paceman to stray to middle stump then punishing him with low-risk flicks off his pads.
Head perfectly still, feet stepping out to the ball, wrists cocked, he is a study in technique, something worked upon tirelessly, obsessively in the nets for hour upon hour.
Greatness doesn't come easily and Tendulkar has always recognised the value of hard work.
Tendulkar's unbeaten 241 at the SCG in 2004 came after he put the cover drive away because it had proved to be a risky shot earlier in the series.
Dhoni wrote in the foreword to a new book entitled Sach that his team-mates could learn plenty from Tendulkar.
He's humble and he works hard on his game day after day, Dhoni says.
Zaheer Khan says the closest Tendulkar comes to losing his temper is when he goes for an extra bowl of ice cream.
"That is when you realise he is pretty upset," Khan says.
There must have been plenty of ice cream on Tendulkar's plate when he encouraged team-mates to pull up stumps mid-tour because of anger over umpiring mistakes and the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds "Monkeygate" affair in early 2008.
Tendulkar stunningly changed his story, having first said he didn't hear Singh's on-field conversation with Symonds during the Sydney Test. After Singh was suspended for three matches for racial abuse, Tendulkar said he had heard the conversation and there was no racial element to the exchange. Singh had his charge downgraded to abuse and was fined.
Tendulkar's high profile has come at a great cost to his quality of life. He's wealthy but can't walk the streets and get an ice cream whenever he wants, not without causing a stampede.
"I could say that I didn't get to do all those things that a normal teenager would do, but then again, not many people get the opportunity to do what I do," Tendulkar says.
Tendulkar plays on towards his 40th birthday because he loves the game, not because he's chasing personal milestones. But with the cricket world obsessed with his personal list of achievements, Tendulkar can hardly be blamed for ticking off landmarks as they come along.
His fellow Mumbai batting marvel Sunil Gavaskar said after India's defeat in the second Test in Sydney in January 2012 that the media circus around Tendulkar's milestone was not helping the team.
Gavaskar said Tendulkar should not have bypassed a home one-day series against the West Indies last month as this would probably have delivered that elusive century.
Tendulkar is a student of history, like many top players.
"You want to be remembered 50 years down the line, like people remember Don Bradman and Garry Sobers now," Tendulkar told Cricinfo in 2006.
"The word 'landmark' itself sort of compels people to remember you."
Australia's master legspinner Shane Warne says Tendulkar is the best batsman he's bowled to.
Two other cricket greats, former West Indies captain Brian Lara and ex-England skipper Ian Botham, say they'd happily pay the entrance fee to see Tendulkar bat.