MUMBAI - Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar wept as he left the pitch for the final time on Saturday after his 200th Test match, ending a dazzling career spanning nearly a quarter of a century. The master batsman, who has god-like popularity across India, waved to thousands of cheering, emotional fans and wiped tears from his eyes as he left the field through a guard of honour formed by his teammates at Mumbai's Wankhede stadium.

At the age of 40, Tendulkar is retiring from the game as the world's leading scorer in both Test and one-day cricket and the only man to score 100 international centuries. In a lengthy and poignant speech on the field after the match against the West Indies in his hometown, Tendulkar thanked everyone who had supported him, from family members and friends, coaches and managers through to teammates and ardent fans. He began by paying tribute to his father who passed away in 1999, saying that "without his guidance I don't think I would be standing in front of you". The cricketer thanked his mother and other relatives individually, prompting tears from his wife Anjali as he praised her and his "two precious diamonds" -- their son Arjun, 14, and daughter Sara, 16 -- who stood close by as he spoke. Calling his marriage to Anjali "the best partnership I've had in my life", he promised his children "the next 16 years and beyond, everything is for you". "I know there are so many guys who've fasted for me, prayed for me, done all sorts of things for me. Without all that life wouldn't have been like this for me," he told the teary-eyed crowds in comments broadcast on Indian television.

"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and say that time has gone by rather quickly, but the memories that you've left with me will always be with me forever and ever." He said the chanting of "Sachin! Sachin!" would "reverberate in my ears until I stop breathing", prompting deafening shouts of his name from spectators.

Tendulkar was then hoisted on to his teammates' shoulders for a victory lap around the field, waving a giant Indian flag. Soon after the match he was chosen for India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in an announcement from the president's office, making him the first sportsperson to receive the honour.

To the disappointment of his followers, the "Little Master" only batted for one innings during his last match, failing to clinch a fairytale final century when he was out for 74 on Friday. His dismissal was met with a stunned silence followed by a standing ovation from the crowd, who had greeted his every run with thundering cheers.

Spectators nevertheless praised his last performance, which included 12 well-timed boundaries to remind them of the best that Tendulkar has produced since his international debut in 1989 at the age of 16. "His 74 runs captured all we have come to love and celebrate about him," said a piece in the Hindustan Times daily, with the headline: "Thank you, thank you, thank you". "A billion dreams end," said the Times of India. During his glittering career, Tendulkar gained a reputation for humility and integrity in a country where public figures are often tarred by corruption. He told his Indian teammates that he believed they would "continue to serve the nation in the right spirit, with the right values". "Each generation gets the opportunity to merely take care of this sport and serve it to the best of our ability," he added.

Tendulkar failed to score a Test century in the last 40 innings of his career, with the final of his 51 Test tons coming nearly three years ago in January 2011 against South Africa. His declining powers in recent years had led some to suggest he should have retired earlier, but such criticism failed to dent his superstar status among India's 1.2 billion people.

Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar will become the first sportsperson to receive a Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, the country's government announced hours after the batting great's 200th and final Test ended on Saturday. Cricket's most prolific run-scorer bid an emotional farewell to the game at his home ground in Mumbai, ending a glittering 24-year career during which he bagged almost every batting record.

"Sachin Tendulkar is undoubtedly an outstanding cricketer - a living legend who has inspired millions across the globe," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office said in a statement. "During the last 24 years, since the young age of 16 years, Tendulkar has played cricket across the world and won laurels for our country. "He has been a true ambassador of India in the world of sports. His achievements in cricket are unparalleled, the records set by him unmatched, and the spirit of sportsmanship displayed by him exemplary."

 That he has been honoured with several awards is testimony to his extraordinary brilliance as a sportsman." A perfect role model for the country's youth and the sport worldwide with his impeccable image on and off the field, Tendulkar was nominated to the upper house of the Indian parliament last year.