Mumbai: A teary-eyed Sachin Tendulkar on Saturday bid an emotional farewell to the game he considered his "oxygen" and said it would be hard for him to believe that his life between "22 yards in the last 24 years" has come to end.
Shortly after his 200th and final Test ended at the stroke of lunch, heart-warming scenes marking his last few moments on the cricket field were witnessed at the Wankhede Stadium where he took a lap of honour hoisted on the shoulders of skipper MS Dhoni and rising star Virat Kohli.
The 40-year-old batting icon struggled to keep his emotions in check as he delivered his farewell speech in front of cheering fans before going back to the pitch to touch it in reverence for one last time.
"My life between 22 yards for 24 years, it is hard to believe that the wonderful journey is coming to end. I would take this opportunity to thank all those people who have played an important role in my life," an overwhelmed Tendulkar said at the presentation ceremony.
In a speech which left many with moist eyes, Tendulkar thanked his family, coaches, teammates, friends and fans.
"All my Friends, settle down and let me talk, or I will get more emotional. It is getting difficult to talk but I will manage," the veteran said immediately after his 200th and final Test which India won by an innings and 126 runs even as the crowd chanted his name.
"I have got a list of people to thank because sometimes I forget," he joked.
"The most important person in my life and I have missed him a lot, my father (Ramesh Tendulkar). Without his guidance I don't think I would have been standing here. He gave me freedom at the age of 11 and said 'chase your dream but don't find shortcuts. the path will be difficult.'
"He told me to be a nice human being. I have tried my best. I miss him today," said Tendulkar, who always looked heavenwards after every big knock in memory of his father, who passed away in 1999.
Next in the list was his mother Rajni, who came to watch Tendulkar for the first time in his farewell match besides the other immediate family members.
"I don't know how she managed a naughty child like me. She just prayed and prayed from the day I started playing the game. Her prayers have given me the strength to go out and perform. For four years I stayed with my uncle and aunt when in school, they treated me like their own son and I am glad that it continues even today," he said.
"My eldest brother Nitin doesn't like to talk much but he said, 'whatever you do, I know you will give 100 per cent'. His help meant a lot to me. My sister Savita and her family was no different. My first cricket bat was presented to me by her, it was a Kashmir willow. She still continues to fast while I bat," Tendulkar said.
"Ajit my brother, We have lived this dream together. He sacrificed his career for me, he took me to (Ramakant) Achrekar sir first. Even last night he called me to discuss my dismissal. Even when I'm not playing we will still be discussing technique. If that hadn't happened, I would have been a lesser cricketer," he added.
Tendulkar then thanked his wife Anjali for being the best partner that life could have given him.
"The most beautiful thing happened to me when I met Anjali in 1990, those were special years, and it has continued and will always continue that ways. I know that being a doctor there was a big career in front of her. When we had a family, she decided that I should continue playing and she took care of the children.
"Without her I don't think I would have played cricket freely. Thanks for bearing with me and always staying by my side. You are the best partnership I have had in my life," Tendulkar said as an emotionally-overwhelmed Anjali cried in the presentation area.
Tendulkar's two kids, son Arjun (14) and daughter Sara (16), were also present at the ceremony and he promised them a lion's share of his time now for being patient when he missed their special days for cricket.
"The two precious diamonds of my life Sara and Arjun, they have already grown up. Time has flown. I wanted to spend so much time with them on special occasions like their birthdays, annual days. I have missed out on those days for the last 16 years. Thanks for that understanding. Both of you have been so special, you cannot imagine.
"I promise you that the next 16 years and the many more after that are yours," he said. Tendulkar also thanked his in-laws for letting him marry Anjali! He also did not forget to thank his friends but didn't name anyone in particular.
"My in-laws - I've discussed several things with them. The most important thing they did was to allow me to marry Anjali. So, thank you for that," he said.
"In the last 24 years my, friends have made terrific contributions. They have been with me while I was stressed. They have been with me even at 3 am when I was injured. Thanks for being there for me," he said.
Not to forget his first coach Ramakant Achrekar, who came down to the stadium for the first time to watch him in action, and the BCCI.
"My career started when I was 11 and the turning point of my career when my brother took me to Achrekar sir. I was extremely delighted to see Achrekar sir in the stands. I used to ride on his scooter and play two matches a day. Sir took me along to make sure I played. On a lighter note, Sir never said 'well played' because he didn't want me to be complacent. You can push your luck now, Sir, since I'm not playing cricket anymore," he joked.
"The BCCI was fantastic from my debut. Thanks to the selectors for having faith in me. I really appreciate your support especially when I was injured. You were right there with me making sure my treatment was taken care of," Tendulkar said.
Tendulkar also thanked his fellow cricketers and the support staff, especially the doctors and trainers.
"Thanks to all the senior cricketers who have played with me. We see on the screen Rahul (Dravid), VVS (Laxman), Sourav (Ganguly), Anil (Kumble) who is not here. All the coaches," he said.
"I know when MS (Dhoni) presented the 200th Test cap, I had a message to the team - I said 'we are all so proud to be representing the nation. I hope to continue to serve the nation with dignity. I have full faith that you will serve the country in the right spirit'.
"I will be failing in my duty if I didn't thank the doctors who have kept me fit. Given the injuries I have suffered. They have treated me in odd hours," he said.
"My dear friend the late Mark Mascarenhas. I miss him. My current management team WSG, for continuing what Mark has done. Someone who has worked closely with me for 14 years is my friend Vinay Nayudu," Tendulkar added.
"The media has backed me a lot, since my school days. Even today. Thank you. Thanks to the photographers for capturing those moments."
In the end, Tendulkar thanked the millions of adoring fans by saying that the chants of 'Sachin, Sachin' that resonated in the stadiums would remain with him till the last moment of his life.
"I want to thank all the people here who supported me endlessly, whether I scored a 0 or a 100-plus. Your support was so dear to me. I have met so many people who have fasted for me. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. This 'Sachin, Sachin' will reverberate in my mind till I stop breathing," he said, drawing a deafening applause from the crowd.
After the match ended, the maestro, who rarely lets emotions show on his cherubic face, began to break down after being presented a souvenir stump by his teammates.
Wiping tears, he trudged back to the dressing room but not before acknowledging the fans and shaking hands with the West Indian cricketers at the boundary line.
The West Indies players personally congratulated Tendulkar as he accepted each and every emerging hand with the same grace and humility that has been his hallmark for almost two and half decades.
His family was with him throughout and they were also vociferously cheered by the crowd.