AUSTRALIA'S first impression, in 1991, of Sachin Tendulkar was of a beautiful young batsman who made 148 not out at the SCG, in Shane Warne's first Test. Two matches later, on a lightning pitch in Perth, against a snarling Australian pace attack, the boy who looked even younger than his 19 years, who had been brought up on slow, spinning Indian wickets, showed an astonishing mix of serenity and power to make 114.
That night in the dressing room, Merv Hughes predicted Tendulkar would break Allan Border's Test runs record.
"This little prick's going to get more runs than you, AB," Hughes said as he cracked open a beer. He could not have predicted by how much, or how many records he would break, or how great Tendulkar would become.
A batting genius who has played the game for almost a quarter of a century, he combined brilliance with incredible longevity. He outlasted fellow greats such as West Indies champion Brian Lara, Australian legend Ricky Ponting and Indian teammate Rahul Dravid, and inspired a new generation of players who wanted to be like him.
The others were all champions, and South Africa's relentless allrounder Jacques Kallis is still going, but none of his contemporaries commanded Tendulkar's god-like status, which coincided with India's rise as a cricket superpower.
If Don Bradman is the greatest batsman the game has seen, where does Tendulkar rank among the modern greats? His Australian opponents felt Lara could, on his day, be more damaging, but that Tendulkar was a more constant threat.
The Indian's record against Australia - 3630 runs at 55 - and in Australia - 1809 at 53.21 - is a testament to that. His affinity with the SCG lasted his whole career; he averages 157 there, and Englishman Walter Hammond is the only touring batsman to have made more runs at the ground.
Tendulkar's super-stardom did not dull his runmaking. He churned out a phenomenal 51 Test centuries. A master of spin, he played Warne better than anyone. It takes a genius to know one and the pair became great friends. The incomparable Australian leg spinner is one of the few people on the planet who knows what it's like to be him, who could comprehend the fame that made Tendulkar wait until the middle of the night to drive his luxury car through the streets of Mumbai.
Former Australian captain Greg Chappell admitted after coaching India that he had not fully understood the pressure Tendulkar lived with, his influence or his exalted place Indian life.
"Once in South Africa I called in Sachin and Sehwag to ask more of them, I could tell by the look on their faces that they were affronted. Later Dravid, who was in the room, said `Greg, they've never been spoken to like that before'," Chappell wrote in his autobiography, Fierce Focus. He explained that a glimpse of Tendulkar was a life- changing event for Indians.
"We were playing an unrelenting amount of cricket to satisfy the demand, at least 50 per cent more than Australia were playing and the pressure was beyond belief. Nobody was carrying that pressure more than Sachin. Not even Don Bradman carried expectations like this, and Sachin had been bearing it since 1989."
Perhaps the one blemish on Tendulkar's career compared with, say, Ponting or Steve Waugh is that his greatness did not often enough translate into success for his team. In 198 Tests to date, the Indian has played in 70 wins, while Ponting's 168 games produced 108 victories for Australia, making him cricket's "most winning" player. Ponting, of course, played in dominant Australian teams but India, too, had an enviable collection of greats in Tendulkar, Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble.
Tendulkar's exalted status in the game, especially in India, has had its downside, and not just for him. His pursuit of 100 international hundreds in Australia during the summer of 2011-12 became an unhealthy obsession, if not for him then for his country, which seemed more concerned with the statistical milestone than the fate of the Test team that was being mauled by Australia's fast bowlers.
Adding to the disappointment, Tendulkar remained aloof from the Australian public that had admired him since his first tour two decades earlier. He is revered and respected by fellow cricketers, although his part in the "Monkeygate" saga of 2008, when he changed his evidence about what Harbhajan Singh said to Andrew Symonds during the acrimonious Sydney Test, did not go down well with some Australian players.
In the past two years, batting became a struggle for Tendulkar and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he stayed too long.
But his retirement will leave a massive hole in the game. Cricket, in its modern guises, is unlikely to produce another player like him.