LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
In India, the man who is probably the greatest cricket player of his generation is retiring. Sachin Tendulkar begins his final match tomorrow.
Commentator Sandip Roy explains why Tendulkar is so beloved.
SANDIP ROY, BYLINE: India is a secular country, but cricket is our national religion, Indians say half-jokingly. That would make Sachin Tendulkar its living god. He's made and broken so many records, he's nicknamed the Master Blaster. On the batting side, cricketers dream of scoring centuries - or 100 runs - against the bowling side. Sachin is the only player to have scored 100 centuries in international cricket.
But Sachin is now 40, and in sports, even gods must retire. Pele did it. Mark McGwire did it, now Sachin. And this is a red carpet retirement, complete with a "We Miss You Sachin" song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Sachin. Sachin. Sachin.
ROY: In Mumbai, a cricketing ground has just been named after him. At his 199th test match in Kolkata last week, his portrait was on the tickets. And two airplanes were booked to shower him with 199 kilos - or over 400 pounds - of rose petals. It's an over-the-top Bollywood goodbye to one of our shyest superstars.
Early in Sachin's career, says journalist Kishore Bhimani, when the teenager scored a hundred runs in England, it was a challenge to get him to say anything.
KISHORE BHIMANI: I remember I interviewed him after that. And he said: Yeah, the ball was coming on very nicely onto the bat.
ROY: Today, Sachin's worth $160 million, unprecedented for an Indian sportsman. He's been nominated to parliament, and has sold Indians everything, from motor lubricants to multigrain biscuits.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Six grains.
SACHIN TENDULKAR: Ah, ragi, corn...
ROY: But Bhimani says, essentially, he's stayed the same as when we first saw him at 16.
BHIMANI: Little, baby-faced boy with curly hair who everyone wanted to just cuddle, and he remained like that. And he still had that shy smile.
ROY: Sachin is adored everywhere, from plush VIP boxes in big stadiums to the dusty vacant lots where barefoot kids play with grubby tennis balls.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
ROY: At a time when our heroes are ever flashier and more arrogant, Sachin reassures us that good guys can finish first.
Journalist Kishore Bhimani.
BHIMANI: I remember when his father died and he came back after that - obviously, with a heavy heart - and he played a match, and he scored a hundred. He looked at the sky. You could see that he was saying: This is for you Dad. I think he's a role model. And if I had - my grandson wanted to be a cricketer, I'd say if you can be cricketer like him - dedicated thing, and yet earn a lot of money.
BHIMANI: It's a nice combination.
ROY: I don't know what this reticent icon makes of the hoopla in his name. The match in Kolkata was between the West Indies and India, but it was really a Sachin event, 20,000 fans screaming hysterically every time he touched the ball, though he didn't score much.
(SOUNDBITE OF A ROARING CROWD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sachin. Sachin.
(SOUNDBITE OF A ROARING CROWD)
ROY: However, the rose petal shower booked for the fifth and last day didn't happen. The West Indians fell apart, and what was supposed to be a five-day match wrapped up in just three. In the end, man proposes, but cricket disposes. I have a feeling cricket's shy and retiring god wouldn't have it any other way.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANCHIN ANTHEM")
DHANUSH: One plus one-u, two-u two-um. If not Sachin, who-u? Who-u? Twenty-eight...
WERTHEIMER: Commentator Sandip Roy is culture editor for the Indian website FirstPost.com. He's based in Kolkata. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.