Mumbai: Delirious crowds greeted India's Sachin Tendulkar as he walked out to bat in his last Test match on Thursday, an emotional farewell game for a national hero whose 24-year career has made him a cricketing legend.
Crowds at the Wankhede stadium in his home town of Mumbai erupted as Tendulkar headed for the crease on the first day of the match, walking through a guard of honour created by his West Indian opponents.
Each run was greeted with raucous applause and cheering, with several textbook cover drives exhibiting the elegant strokeplay that has marked Tendulkar out since his international debut in 1989.
He finished the day unbeaten on 38, having hit six boundaries off 73 balls, setting the scene for further excitement on Friday.
The 40-year-old is ending an international career during which he became the all-time leading Test and one-day batsman and the only man to score 100 international centuries.
Ahead of the match, he said the last 20 years had been "marked by some of the most challenging, exhilarating, poignant and memorable moments of my life".
"The game has seen so much change over the last two decades -- from advances in technology, new formats, yet the basic spirit and passion surrounding the game remains the same," he wrote in a front-page Hindustan Times article.
The end of the "Little Master", who has almost god-like status in his cricket-mad country, has been met with nationwide nostalgia for his sporting feats.
As he strode to the crease, acknowledging the applause with a modest raising of his bat, Indians all over the country huddled around television sets and Twitter exploded with messages wishing him luck.
Tendulkar led the team out onto the field at the stadium in the morning and the toss took place with a specially minted coin bearing his image on one side, footage showed. Cries of "Sachin! Sachin!" echoed throughout the day.
Excitement around the game has been building since last month, when he announced his intention to retire. Highlights of his innings and interviews have been looping on news channels.
"He's not just a cricketer. For me he's an ideal son, an ideal friend. The biggest thing about him is his humility," said fan Himanshu Kapadia, queueing for entry to the stadium with his two sons.
Among the spectators was Sudhir Gautam, Tendulkar's celebrity fan, who travels across the world to watch him while painted in the colours of the Indian flag -- with his idol's name written across his chest and back.
The star's wheelchair-bound mother Rajni was also watching him bat for the first time after a special ramp was built for her at the south Mumbai stadium. She normally stays away out of fear of bringing bad luck.
Along with Indian politicians, businessmen and Bollywood stars, cricketing greats Brian Lara and Shane Warne flew in for the game at Wankhede, where a huge security force has been deployed.
Many followers expressed disappointment that only 5,000 out of 32,000 seats were for the general public, with the rest reserved for VIPs such as sponsors and cricket club members.
"We will be very fortunate if we get another Sachin," Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said at the toss. "So it is important that we learn from the great man."
Since 16-year-old Tendulkar made his debut in Karachi in 1989, he has racked up an astonishing 15,847 runs in 199 Tests, helping India win the 2011 World Cup and reach the top of the world rankings.
Along with murals, banners and billboards that have sprung up ahead of his last match, Mumbai's tattoo parlours have reportedly seen a surge in requests for designs of the sporting icon.
On a beach in the eastern state of Odisha, an artist created a huge sand sculpture of 200 cricket bats and Tendulkar's face.
"Sachin Tendulkar was the best batsman of my generation and it will be a privilege to be in Mumbai," wrote Australia's Warne, who is commentating on the match.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to New Delhi, called him "absolutely an all-time great" and said he was an example and inspiration to cricket-lovers.
Despite his glowing status, Tendulkar's cricketing powers have waned in recent years and some suggested he should have retired earlier. The latest of his 51 Test centuries was back in January 2011 against South Africa.
Due to an ongoing dispute between media groups and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Agence France-Presse is unable to provide coverage of the match between India and the West Indies.