A cricket milestone falls, and India rejoices

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By JULHAS ALAM, Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Cricket lovers the world over knew it was just a matter of time.

But finally, after being stranded for a full year in matches from England to Australia, Sachin Tendulkar of India scored his 100th international century to the collective relief of his cricket-mad country of more than 1 billion people.

In a sport dedicated to statistics, nobody can match Tendulkar's numbers. He has scored the most runs and the most centuries in tests and limited-overs cricket. And he was the only batsman likely to hit the magical 100 hundreds mark in his lifetime.

Tendulkar, known as the "Little Master," reached the milestone — one of the most prized achievements in cricket — in the Asia Cup at Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium on Friday.

The moment came with a clipped single to square leg from spinner Shakib Al Hassan, although it wasn't enough to prevent Bangladesh from stunning India by five wickets. He was finally out for 114.

"I can't think of anything at this stage, it has been a tough phase for me," Tendulkar told Neo Cricket channel after his innings. "I started off the season well but was luckless. It does not matter how many hundreds you score, you still have to grind it out."

India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the outpouring of praise. Singh called Tendulkar's 23-year career a "triumph of class, character and courage" and wished that he keeps playing to inspire youngsters with "many more innings and feats."

International Cricket Council chief executive Haroon Lorgat, Indian cricket board chief Narainswamy Srinivasan and other past and present cricketers also offered congratulations.

Tendulkar's 100th century — or hundred runs — didn't come at the most glamorous or tradition-steeped venue. Nor did it come against the most vaunted opponent. Still, he finally got there.

The best batsman of the modern era scored his previous century (111) against South Africa at Nagpur during the World Cup on March 12 last year. The World Cup final at Mumbai and tours of England and Australia all provided chances of hitting the mark at some of cricket's most celebrated grounds, but Tendulkar came up short each time.

"When I got the 99th century, no (teammates) spoke about it. I guess it was the media which started it. Everywhere I went people were talking about my 100th hundred," he said.

Tendulkar has set a benchmark unlikely to be surpassed in his lifetime. His closest rival is Ricky Ponting, who has 68 international centuries but is approaching the twilight of his career at age 37.

Since his international debut at 16 against archrival Pakistan in 1989, Tendulkar has been compared not only with top batsmen of his era like Brian Lara, but also with Australian great Donald Bradman as the best batsman in history.

"Tendulkar always looks to score, is never satisfied and always hungry for runs," former India captain Sunil Gavaskar "His approach, focus and concentration is incredible."

The 38-year-old Tendulkar has taken on the best bowlers over the past 23 years. He has restricted his participation in one-day matches since 2010, but he remains as energetic as anyone in the field and even while running between the wickets. Every speculation of retirement is answered with a new achievement.

Tendulkar has adjusted well to changing times. He has not only perfected new strokes like the "upper cut" and "paddle sweep," but also excelled in the slash and bash of the Twenty20 Indian Premier League.

Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar called this latest achievement "a golden moment for not only Sachin but also Indian cricket." Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan weighed in on Twitter: "God's special creation .. Sachin Tendulkar!!"

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AP Sports Writer C. Rajshekhar Rao contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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