MUMBAI (AFP) - Sachin Tendulkar takes to the pitch on Thursday for his 200th and final Test match, set to fixate a billion fans as they bid farewell to a cricketing legend.
The 40-year-old will bring an end to a remarkable career spanning nearly a quarter of a century, during which he became the world's leading Test and one-day batsman and the only one to score 100 international centuries.
The end of the "Master Blaster," one of India's only global stars, who is given almost God-like status at home, will be greeted with tears and nostalgia for his sporting feats since his international debut in 1989.
Excitement ahead of the game in his hometown of Mumbai has been building since he announced his intention to retire last month, with highlights of his innings and interviews looping on news channels.
"We're going just for Sachin. He's the best player we've ever had for India, in fact for all cricket," student Saurabh Salot told AFP as he waited outside the stadium, hoping to pick up a black-market ticket.
Many fans have expressed disappointment that only 5,000 tickets went on sale for the general public despite the 32,000 seats in the Wankhede stadium, many of which are reserved for VIPs such as sponsors and cricket club members.
Such was the demand for tickets for the second in a two-match series against the West Indies that the main website selling them crashed within minutes of sales opening on Monday.
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.
"I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for 24 years of support," he wrote to his followers on Twitter on the eve of his final match.
Along with Tendulkar murals, banners and billboards that have sprung up in the countdown, Mumbai's tattoo parlours have seen a spike in requests for designs of the sporting icon, the Times of India reported.
"Since it was for Sachin Sir, I hardly felt any pain," Rikin Dedhia told the newspaper after a smiling Tendulkar was etched on his upper arm.
Tendulkar's wheelchair-bound mother Rajni is due to watch her son bat for the first time after a special ramp was built for her at the south Mumbai stadium, despite her previous fears that her presence at matches could bring bad luck.
Cricketing greats Brian Lara and Shane Warne have also flown in for the farewell game at Wankhede, where a huge security force has been deployed for the next five days.
"Sachin Tendulkar was the best batsman of my generation and it will be a privilege to be in Mumbai," said Australia's Warne, who is commentating on the match.
"The pressure he was under from the India public was immense but he handled himself on and off the field in a way that was respected by all," Warne wrote in his column for Britain's Daily Telegraph this week.
Father-of-two Tendulkar has tended to avoid the limelight off the pitch and has steered clear of controversies, earning himself a reputation for humility and self-control.
Despite his glowing reputation, his cricketing powers have appeared to wane in recent years and some suggested that he should have retired earlier, with the last of his 51 Test centuries 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 itself between India and the West Indies.