Is the end nigh for the Little Master?

The Mayans had us believe that doomsday would come in December. After a month traveling through India I'm convinced it's being reserved for the day Sachin Tendulkar retires from Test cricket.

A rumor sweeping the subcontinent is that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against Australia will be his last - meaning we should brace for a disaster of biblical proportions given the effect it’s having on the public.

Only time will tell if the whisper proves true but one undeniable fact is how unprepared this cricket crazed nation is for life after Tendulkar.

To understand the impact he's had on the consciousness of his country one only has to chat with any of the billion or so people here, for which cricket is akin to religion.

A wheat farmer in rural Rajasthan couldn’t make out a thing I was saying before I muttered the word 'Tendulkar’, which prompted a bow of his head in an act usually reserved for Hindu deities.

Sudeep Gavde, a 28 year old insurance broker from Mumbai, explained that many in spiritual India saw the Little Master as celestial, “he’s like a God and I don’t say that flippantly, I mean people genuinely see him in a divine way,” he said.

He is possibly the most admired celebrity that has ever lived with a following that would have made Elvis blush. If India was as developed as the Western world his Twitter followers would exceed 500million!

It’s why his inevitable retirement will strike at the heart of the nation on a scale most Australians will find astonishing.

Tendulkar, 40 in April, made his Test debut in 1989 as a 16 year-old against Pakistan (he was bowled by Waqar Younis for 15 in Karachi).

For the hundreds of millions of Indians living impoverished lives he has been an infinite well of hope, happiness and pride ever since - the one certainty in an uncertain world.

Many have never watched a Test without him, including Ashan Mehta, a 27 year old street vendor from Pune. “Even talking of Tendulkar retiring is a very sensitive issue for us, we are all quite emotional about it," he said. “If he retires the sense of loss will be overwhelming because for so many people like me we have not known life without him, and cricket is life here.”

Tendulkar has been showing steady signs of decline not unlike Ricky Ponting did before he called stumps on his masterful career in November.

His feet, so fleet and light for so long, have stopped moving. He has not made a Test century since 2011, and may no longer be seen as the prized scalp by opposition - something Ponting also experienced in his twilight.

On Friday he scored an unbeaten 140 for Mumbai against a Rest of India team at Wankhede Stadium, a sign there could be fight in the old dog yet ahead of the First Test in Chennai starting February 22.

In doing so he passed 25,000 first-class runs and equaled the great Sunil Gavaskar's all time record of 81 first-class centuries.

In typical Tendulkar fashion he is remaining coy with the media and hasn’t hinted at a looming announcement about his future.

In any case, when that day comes it will signal the end of the world as they know it in India.

Mark Murray is a former Border Mail journalist and lifelong sports nut. He is currently on the subcontinent covering Australia’s cricket tour of India.

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