Retiring cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar receives India's highest civilian award

Sachin Tendulkar has bowed out of international cricket after a 24-year career. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Indian Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar has been bestowed with the country’s biggest civilian award “Bharat Ratna”.

Tendulkar, who retired from international cricket today, is the first sportsman to be bestowed with India's highest civilian honour.

The announcement was made by India’s presidency within hours after Tendulkar played his 200th Test at his home ground in Mumbai.

An official statement said Tendulkar has been a "true ambassador of India" in the world of sport and 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," it said, noting that Tendulkar has played cricket across the world and won laurels for the country during the last 24 years, since the young age of 16.

The award is recognition of exceptional service of the highest order since it was instituted in 1954.

Talk of Tendulkar getting the award has been going around for many years, and peaked in 2011 when the eligibility criteria for the award was broadened and sportspeople were included.

Originally, the honour was for excellence in "art, literature, science and public services" but was amended to recognise "performance of highest order in any field of human endeavour".

Tendulkar is also the first active sportsperson to become a member of the upper house in India's parliament last year.

The 40-year-old brought the curtain down on a 24-year career which has seen him play more Tests and score more runs than any man in history, as India claimed a comfortable win over the West Indies.

Sachin bid an emotional farewell to the sport, saying it is "hard to believe" that his "wonderful journey is coming to an end".

In a 20-minute speech following the match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Tendulkar said, "You are like my family away from home, I have had some wonderful times with you".