New Delhi:The difference between Sachin Tendulkar's 34th birthday and his 35th, which he celebrates on Thursday, could not be starker.
One year ago the master batsman, considered to be among the all-time greats of the game and perhaps next only to Don Bradman in stature as a pure batsman, was distraught following India's early and shameful exit from the World Cup and celebrated his birthday quietly at his home with his family.
It was a dismal time for Indian cricket as a whole in the aftermath of the disastrous World Cup where the much-hype team led by Rahul Dravid was eliminated in the first round.
Tendulkar, true to his fashion, lifted himself as well as the country's cricket from that low by making his bat talk loud in England and Australia to play a leading role in the campaigns in both countries, the oldest rivals in international cricket.
The stalwart contributed mightily to the team's Test and ODI victory in Old Blighty as well as a first-ever triumph in the tri-series Down Under after helping India match the world champions step for step in the acrimonous Test series that they lost narrowly to the hosts after a rip-roaring battle.
The ace batsman, who in the process also increased his century count to 39 in Tests and 42 in ODIs, besides overtaking Sri Lankan ace Sanath Jayasuriya as the leading run-getter in the 50-over game, has truly bounced back in style after some critics wrote his epitaph in the aftermath of India's dismal display in the World Cup in the Caribbean. The only dark spot surrounding Tendulkar's 35th birthday is that he is continuing to be troubled by his injury woes.
He has missed the first two matches in the ongoing Indian Premier League and has been unable to lead the Mumbai Indians team at two of his most favoured venues - Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and Chennai's Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk.
A groin strain that he picked up when guiding India to a fantastic 2-0 triumph over Australia that got aggravated when he chose to play against South Africa at Chennai's Chapauk ground in the first Test last month, left him frustrated.
He could take no further part in the series, which the home team squared in the third and final Test at Kanpur.
But otherwise, things are looking bright for the ace batsman and his happy frame of mind was visible when he chose to crack jokes with the media at the pre-match conference on the eve of Mumbai Indians' opening encounter against Bangalore Royal Challengers at his home turf.
Tendulkar has also stated clearly that retirement from either Tests or ODIs is the furthest thought occupying his mind currently.
Unlike last year, this time he is celebrating his birthday on the cricketing road with his Mumbai Indians teammates who would be wishing fervently he gets back into action at the soonest and turns around the team's plunging fortunes after two straight defeats in the first two ties.
With the hectic schedule in store for the team post-IPL, he as well as millions of cricket fans must be praying on his birthday that he recovers fast from his groin injury and remains fit for the remainder of India's long and tough campaigns ahead.
Wish the greatest cricketer of all times on his 35th birthday.