Sachin Tendulkar celebrated his 40th birthday on Wednesday with a nation of cricket fans willing the man they affectionately call "The Little Master" to another year in his prolific international career.
Tendulkar, holder of most of the world's batting records — including most runs and centuries in tests and one-day internationals — retired from limited-overs cricket last year but continues to play tests despite watching contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman all step down over the past year.
Most leading Indian newspapers dedicated huge space to Tendulkar in their sports pages, along with columns by former players. Television channels broadcast programs dedicated to his achievements since his international debut in Pakistan as a 16-year-old in 1989.
Tendulkar last year became the first batsman to complete 100 internationals centuries during the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, with his 49th in ODIs. He's scored more than 34,000 runs in tests and one-dayers, and he was the first to score a one-day double century with 200 not out against South Africa at Gwalior in 2010.
He's taken little part in one-day cricket after achieving the lifelong ambition of winning a World Cup on his home ground of Wankhede Stadium at Mumbai in 2011, and his retirement from the shorter format was no surprise.
Former Australia captain Greg Chappell, who also served as India coach, praised Tendulkar for his long career in a column in The Hindu newspaper.
"While crossing the age of 40 is no big deal for most people, it is a huge milestone in the life of a professional sportsman," Chappell wrote. "Not many reach that age and are still playing at the highest level; especially if they began their international career as a precocious 16-year-old."
Tendulkar has often been compared with Australian batting great Don Bradman, but Chappell says Tendulkar probably carried more pressure through his career.
"No other player, not even Bradman, has endured greater scrutiny and higher expectations than Tendulkar, and none has delivered more often. My warmest birthday wishes and may the final stanza of his career play out as he deserves," Chappell added.
World Cup-winning former India captain Kapil Dev recalled Tendulkar's debut.
"It was very tough for me to deal with his near-childlike presence in the dressing room," the former allrounder wrote in column in the magazine section of The Times of India that was accompanied by with photographs from that tour of Pakistan.
"At that time, he was in the 10th standard (grade), I think. So, for me, he was just a baby," Dev said. "But what I liked about this young boy was that he had tremendous confidence in his cricket abilities."
Spin bowling great Bishan Singh Bedi congratulated Tendulkar for keeping a level head and avoiding controversies despite his God-like status in India.
"The fact that Sachin, during his very long innings, has not been embroiled in any major personal controversy is a tribute to his modesty as much as it is to his fierce motivation to keep the glitterati at bay at any cost," Bedi wrote in The Hindu.
Twitter was also abuzz with praise from contemporaries.
"Welcome to the 40s buddy!! Push for singles, from here on in u don't want to score too quickly," tweeted West Indies great Brian Lara, one of the batsmen with whom Tendulkar was compared.
"Dear master blaster many happy returns of the day wishing you health and success always thank you god for this day regards," tweeted all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, who was man of the tournament at the 2011 World Cup and dedicated the victory to Tendulkar.
"From idolizing him to playing with him has been an exciting journey! @Sachin—rt bhai (brother) will be not out forever!" tweeted Indian middle-order batsman Virat Kohli.