MUMBAI: Sachin Tendulkar's passion for cricket has not diminished during his long career and he still has a child-like enthusiasm for the game, said the record-breaking India batsman.
The 36-year-old will join a list of 15 players whose international careers have spanned more than 20 years when he plays in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad on Monday.
"Cricket lives in my heart and whenever I'm on a cricket field I enjoy it ... somewhere it's still a 16-year-old hidden inside who wants to go out and express himself," Tendulkar told a news conference on Friday.
Celebrating 20 years of Sachin Tendulkar
"I do that and it comes naturally and I don't make any special effort to show enthusiasm. It's been my life and I enjoy every moment.''
"I enjoy challenges, it's a package deal, ups and downs, wonderful moments and there are disappointments, so all that also makes you a stronger person and you learn to deal with various things in life," said the batting great.
Tendulkar has been the face of Indian cricket since his Test debut as a chubby, curly-haired 16-year-old against Pakistan in Karachi in November 1989.
He now holds the record for most Test runs (12,773), Test centuries (42), ODI runs (17,178) and ODI centuries (45).
"I think I'm very fortunate to be living that dream and 20 years is a long time so there have been many special moments in my career," Tendulkar said.
"To actually start counting them would be tough but I'd definitely say the first day, walking with the playing XI, playing a test in Pakistan was probably the greatest feeling.
Tendulkar's world records & elusive milestones
The journey began there and whatever I did after that was a mere reflection of my contribution towards the nation's cause," he added.
The countdown to Tendulkar's latest landmark has been dominating airtime in cricket-crazy India with TV channels and newspapers running specials to commemorate his achievement.
"I cannot fail to thank the people of India for all the affection and love, the support," he said.
"Whatever I do, whatever level I perform, you need people around you to share your happiness with them and I've got more than a billion people to share that with so that means a lot to me.''
"Because of all these things you are inspired to go out and do something special for all the people."
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni recently said Tendulkar had the fitness and form to play until 2015.
Congratulate Sachin Tendulkar
"It would be nice if I can go on that long but I don't want to think that far," said Tendulkar.
"My focus is on the near future. I feel there is cricket left in me and everything is going really well."