New Delhi: The longest-serving current international cricketer Sachin Tendulkar turned 35 on Thursday, feeling as excited and enthusiastic about the game as he did on debut 19 years ago.
The record-breaking batsman, considered an icon in his native India and around the world, dismissed any suggestions of calling it a day despite being dogged by injuries in recent years.
"I am enjoying my cricket at the moment and don't want to think too much about the future," Tendulkar, recovering from a groin injury, said in a recent television interview.
"I have been playing almost non-stop for 20 years and want to focus only on the present. I prefer to take it series by series."
Tendulkar, who made his international debut in 1989 in Pakistan, needs just 172 more runs to overtake retired West Indian Brian Lara as Test cricket's leading run-scorer.
Sachin's career in figures
The star batsman, with 11,782 runs from 147 Tests, will get the chance to surpass Lara when India tour Sri Lanka in July for a three-Test series.
Tendulkar is already the world's top one-day batsman with 16,361 runs and holds the world records of 39 Test and 42 one-day centuries.
Rich tributes poured in from contemporaries like Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting, and India's one-day and Twenty20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni as Tendulkar celebrated the day with his Mumbai team-mates and family.
"We may have to wait for many, many years to have another player like him," said Warne, the retired Australian leg-spin genius whose on-field duels with Tendulkar were legendary.
"I feel Lara and Sachin are the best batsmen of recent times, but I rate Sachin the best, not only because of his amazing cricketing ability, but also because of the exemplary manner in which he conducts himself on and off the field.
"He is a wonderful guy. Naturally and exceptionally talented, affectionate and always smiling. I feel Sachin is truly great because he is disciplined, co-operative, naturally talented and a dedicated player.
"He should be allowed to continue till he wants to."
Dhoni said Tendulkar was "the special guy made by God to play cricket at its best."
"The challenges Sachin has faced over the past 19 years have been huge," said Dhoni. "It is not only about on-field performance, but also about being able to compete with the fittest individuals in the team.
"I think to be consistent throughout is phenomenal. He is a very special guy who has been made by God to play cricket at its best."
India may have found talented young batsmen in Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, but still rely on veteran Tendulkar to deliver in crisis.
Tendulkar was the only senior batsman to retain a place in the recent one-day series in Australia, scoring an unbeaten 117 and 91 to help his team clinch the best-of-three-finals against the hosts.
He may have curbed a few strokes of late, but remains one of the most innovative batsmen of his era. Such is his charisma that he hogs the limelight as much with his failures as with his successes.
Australia skipper Ponting recently said his bowlers had to put in an extra effort to get rid of Tendulkar because the Indian had always looked solid.
"He is in the same league as Lara, but I've always felt Sachin has a tighter technique. Because he's so solid, our bowlers have had to work hard to get him out," said Ponting.
"At different times, we've worked out different plans, but Sachin comes up with something to combat them ... the sign of a truly class player."