Sachin a perfect role model in star-starved India // Sachin a perfect role model in star-starved India (Reuters)

Mumbai: An apocryphal story freely circulated about Sachin Tendulkar holds that for most of his career India's selectors never debated his place in the national team. They merely asked him if he was available.

The diminutive 40-year-old Mumbai native has enjoyed the same iconic status off the field since his Karachi debut in 1989.

For a star-starved nation disgusted with tainted politicians and mediocre sportsmen, Tendulkar's self-discipline, fiercely private family life and controversy-free image make him a role model for the country's burgeoning youth population.

It is therefore not surprising that Rahul Gandhi, scion of the largest political party and a strong candidate to become Prime Minister next year, was wiped off television channels in the middle of a speech as news of Tendulkar's retirement came in.

During his career, which has spanned almost a quarter of a century, Tendulkar has never let his phenomenal success go to his head.

He has remained a conservative family-orientated person despite the glare of a perpetual spotlight and, unlike some of his team mates, he is rarely seen on the party circuit.

Salil Ankola, who played his only test match in the Karachi test in which Tendulkar made his debut, revealed in a 2009 interview that he sleepwalked into a team mate's room in Pakistan and asked if the bats he had ordered had arrived.

Former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad said Tendulkar's dedication made him a guiding light for all aspiring cricketers.

"He is a role model for a generation of cricketers. I keep on telling our youngsters here is a cricketer they can learn so much from. Just learn from the way he has dedicated his life to cricket," he said.