Sachin Tendulkar, a hero to a billion Indians, retires from cricket

Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar kisses his helmet after scoring his hundred century (100 runs) on March 16, 2012. He announced his retirement from cricket on October 10, 2013.

Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting once said that he would probably be batting in a wheelchair if he survived in world cricket as long as Sachin Tendulkar.

The "Master Blaster" finally announced on Thursday that he was hanging up his boots after a 24-year international career which began with his debut in Pakistan in November 1989.

"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 compiled 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.

"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."

Feared and respected by opponents, Tendulkar changed the definition of Indian batting, shrewdly combining orthodox and unorthodox shots to dominate any attack on any surface at home or abroad.

As one of the game's greatest players, he has the most runs (15,837) and centuries (51) in Test cricket and was also the highest run-maker (18,426) with a record 49 hundreds in the one-day game, which he stopped playing last year.

The married father-of-two has scored an unprecedented 100 international centuries, holds most coveted batting records except Don Bradman's career average high of 99.94, and finally won the World Cup with India in 2011.

Legendary India opener Sunil Gavaskar, the first batsman to complete 10,000 Test runs, said he was convinced the 1.65-metre (5 foot, 5 inches) batsman would achieve greatness when he first saw him bat in the nets more than two decades ago.

"It is hard to imagine any player in the history of the game who combines classical technique with raw aggression like the little champion does. There is not a single shot he cannot play," he said.

Tendulkar shattered batting records, earned millions of dollars and was revered as a demi-god in India and particularly at home in Mumbai. But in the eyes of many fans, humility remains his prime virtue.

If there was any arrogance, it was in his batting because he loved to dominate bowlers before injuries to his elbow, back and ankle forced him to adapt his game in the latter years of his career.

"The way he conducts himself and handles fame and everything that goes with being Sachin is a great example for all sportsmen," Australian leg-spin great Shane Warne wrote in his book "Shane Warne's century".

"On the field, he has never put himself before the team."

Technically sound, temperamentally unflappable, quick to adapt to different conditions, Tendulkar came very close to batting perfection in his pomp.

He also became an unrivalled source of pride in a country with few international sporting heroes, capitalizing on his status with commercial deals to advertise cement, watches, sportswear and apartments among others.

While little is shared about his private life, he is known as a fast-car enthusiast once reported to take his beloved Ferrari out in the early hours of the morning to beat the traffic in his native Mumbai.

Australia's Don Bradman, widely considered the greatest Test batsman of all time, once said Tendulkar's style of batting reminded him of his own, which was based on dominating and demoralizing the opposition.

Under the guidance of his elder brother and to the bemusement of his late father, a college professor, Tendulkar spent hours honing his skills as a boy along with hundreds of others on a busy park known as the Oval Maidan in central Mumbai.

Like West Indian great Brian Lara, who holds the records for highest Test scores, he did not take to captaincy during his career, having had two brief stints which seemed to distract him from his batting.

The last few years have been marked by a steady decline, with commentators openly questioning his eyesight and voicing opinions that would once have been heretical -- that Sachin was no longer worth his place in the team.