Among all of Sachin Tendulkar's achievements over the years - and there are too many to be recounted - going past Steve Waugh's world record of 168 Test caps must rank pretty high. To have been considered good enough for India for so many matches, to have been fit for so long, to have outlasted almost all his contemporaries. Suresh Raina, India's latest debutant, was still a toddler when Tendulkar bled on the pitch in Sialkot
and said, "Main khelega
A day before he plays his record-making Test, Tendulkar put it, the "dream that I have been living", in perspective. "The rest of things can be achieved, but for this you need an X number of years, an X number of tours, that's when this thing happens," he says. "And I am quite pleased. It has taken me 20-plus years to get here.
"It's wonderful that we have been able to play so much Test cricket. In the last few years we have played a reasonable amount of Test cricket. At one stage, in the early nineties, I hardly got any Test matches. Couple of Test occasions there were just two or three Tests in a year. It was disappointing. That is not the case now."
The thoughts, he says, go back to his first Test, in 1989, after which he thought he would never play a Test again. One-sixty-seven Tests later he says, "It's been a long journey. I still remember the first Test I played. It was a completely different feeling altogether, compared to any form of cricket I had played. And since then it has worked out pretty well. Very happy that I have had this privilege of such a long journey at the international level."
Tendulkar spoke of the preparation that goes behind doing well for such a long time. "The journey has gone by very quickly, quicker than I expected," he says. "Time flies. You just need to enjoy it, it's a circle. You are not always on the top, sometimes there are rough patches, but the simple formula that I have followed is, whenever I have gone through tough phases, I have found a reason to work harder. And try and spend all my energy at something I have been wanting to get better at.
"The pre-match preparation is extremely important. In that factor, I feel I have always been prepared. Sometimes I was able to achieve results, sometimes I wasn't, but my preparations were always there. Really proud of it."
The journey has indeed been long. The third umpire was introduced in his time, and he is there when we are talking about UDRS too. In between have come enough triumphs, and more than enough heartbreaks to break down quite a few. Tendulkar is still saying, "Main khelega."