Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 1st day January 24, 2008

Fans at the 'Sachin Stand'

Jenny Thompson descends on the stands at the Cathedral End where India fans are chanting 'Sachin Sachin Sachin!'

Tendulkar clips a single through midwicket off Stuart Clark to bring up his half-century and immediately turns and points his bat to acknowledge the Bharat Army before anyone else © AFP

Don't try to interview passionate India fans (as if there's any other kind) when Sachin Tendulkar is batting. For one, they've barely got half an ear on the questions, while you have more stop-starts with the tape than a nervous sprint-race starter.

You simply can't hear anything other than a roar of "Sachin! Sachin! Sachin!" when he so much as touches the ball if you're sitting anywhere near the three main 30-strong clumps of India fans at the Cathedral End, which should be renamed the Sachin Stand.

All are based in Adelaide, most studying potentially lucrative IT, engineering or business. Even the majority of the Bharat Army, one of the three groups, have made Adelaide their semi-permanent home as students here, although these loyal followers have travelled throughout Australia following India since Boxing Day.

"No-one else matches his class," murmurs Gill, a Bharat Army member, over three takes of the tape. "I want to watch him just get a century." Does Tendulkar love the support? "Definitely he does, he looks back over here when he gets a half-century," he smiles proudly. "Keep a close eye."

Two overs later Gill's proven right: Tendulkar clips a single through midwicket off Stuart Clark to bring up his half-century and immediately turns and points his bat to acknowledge the Bharat Army before anyone else, even his team-mates.

Rajeed, another Army member, is not surprised. "He is a good man, very polite, and he has not changed," he said, echoing everyone canvassed. "That's why he's so popular in India. He is like a God and he's treated just next to the prime minister. I'm sure that if he participated in the prime ministerial elections he is going to be the next prime minister."

It's not just that he's the best in his field - "He is legend!" smiles Harish, "Legend is ultimate word," adds Vamshi - it's that he's the best in cricket, too. "Cricket has murdered other sports in India," says Lovepreet, yet another student, who also thinks Tendulkar's appearance accounts for 25% of the Indian fans here. "He has done a lot for India, even his record doesn't tell the full story. He's been consistent."

Has Tendulkar unwittingly, albeit beautifully, massacred anyone else's chances to be held so reverently in the future? "There will be no-one like him," reckons Vamshi, but Lovepreet is not so sure. "People used to say when Sunil Gavaskar retired, 'Who will bat for India now?' but time goes on, people come and go, it's not going to stop. I will still go on India tours when he's gone."

Tendulkar has to retire one day and this could be his last Test in Australia. Most people are expecting this, but not Rajeed. "I think he is planning for a long time. He is saying that 'I can play at least for four or five years'. The people are saying, he is not saying 'I am retiring after this series'. I think he will play the next World Cup in 2011."

Regardless, while the Army has had t-shirts made to spell out one word if they line up properly, it's not the word 'Sachin' emblazoned. It's that of their country. And in among the joyous "Sachin! Sachin! Sachin!", an equally infectious "India! India. India! India." starts up and it's impossible not to join in.

Not everyone is in raptures over the man who has scored more than 11,000 Test runs. While most of the home fans undoubtedly respect Tendulkar - Australians loves a champion - some are indifferent. "I don't rate him very highly," says 26-year-old Andy. "He's not really a phenomenon here. We just feel the ripple effects from India and through other Indians and expats here in Australia."

But when he hears that while Tendulkar was coming into bat, among the resounding cheers were jeers and boos and someone even shouted: "You suck, Tendulkar", Andy is quick in response. "That's disrespectful and offensive. You wouldn't do it to anyone."

Later, Tendulkar brings up his century cover-driving Michael Clarke and the whole ground stands as one, Australian fans leading the bowing in fact. Tendulkar, it seems, has won yet another set of fans over.

If this is his last Test here then he has picked his moment well, particularly as he came averaging 20.33 here, way down on his in-Australia average of 55.50. He more than surpassed it though, with an innings that will live long in the memory.

Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo