MUMBAI - Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar wept as he left the pitch for the final time on Saturday after his 200th Test match, ending a dazzling career spanning nearly a quarter of a century.
The master batsman, who has god-like popularity across India, waved to thousands of cheering, emotional fans and wiped tears from his eyes as he left the field through a guard of honour formed by his teammates at Mumbai's Wankhede stadium.
At the age of 40, Tendulkar is retiring from the game as the world's leading scorer in both Test and one-day cricket and the only man to score 100 international centuries.
In a lengthy and poignant speech on the field after the match against the West Indies in his hometown, Tendulkar thanked everyone who had supported him, from family members and friends, coaches and managers through to teammates and ardent fans.
He began by paying tribute to his father who passed away in 1999, saying that "without his guidance I don't think I would be standing in front of you".
The cricketer thanked his mother and other relatives individually, prompting tears from his wife Anjali as he praised her and his "two precious diamonds" - his son Arjun, 14, and daughter Sara, 16 - who stood close by as he spoke.
Calling Anjali "the best partnership I've had in my life", he promised his children "the next 16 years and beyond, everything is for you".
"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 told the teary-eyed crowds in comments broadcast on Indian television.
"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 for ever and ever."
He said the chanting of "Sachin! Sachin!" would "reverberate in my ears until I stop breathing", prompting deafening shouts of his name from spectators.
Tendulkar was then hoisted on to his teammates' shoulders for a victory lap around the field, waving a giant Indian flag.
To the disappointment of his ardent followers, the "Little Master" only batted for one innings during his final match, failing to clinch a fairytale final century when he was out for 74 on Friday.
His dismissal was met by a stunned silence followed by a standing ovation from the stands, where the crowds had greeted his every run with thundering cheers.
Spectators nevertheless praised his last performance, which included 12 well-timed boundaries to remind them of the best that Tendulkar has produced since his international debut in 1989 at the age of 16.
"His 74 runs captured all we have come to love and celebrate about him," said a piece in the Hindustan Times daily, with the headline: "Thank you, thank you, thank you".
"A billion dreams end," said the Times of India.