03/16/2012 09:10 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Sachin Tendulkar becomes first cricketer to score 100 international centuries

DHAKA, Bangladesh - After being stranded on 99 not out for a full, frustrating year, Sachin Tendulkar finally scored his 100th international century to the collective relief of India and its 1 billion-plus population.

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 was really the only batsman likely to hit the magical 100 hundreds mark in his lifetime.

Cricket lovers and critics all over the world knew it was just a matter of time, even as he struggled in England and Australia in the last 12 months.

The "Little Master" relieved himself of the burden of all their expectations in the Asia Cup at Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium on Friday for undoubtedly the most anticipated of cricket milestones.

Reaching triple figures is one of the most prized achievements in cricket — almost up there with a hat trick of taking three wickets with three consecutive deliveries. Hence the attention on 100 hundreds.

With a clipped single to square leg from spinner Shakib Al Hassan, Tendulkar reached his 49th ODI hundred to raise his combined test and ODI tally to 100. Typically, his celebration of the milestone was dignified.

"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."

It wasn't the most glamorous or tradition-steeped venue, or opposition team for that matter, but it counts all the same.

The best batsman of the modern era scored his last 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 him opportunities of getting to the mark at some of the most celebrated venues in cricket but Tendulkar came up short each time.

He was twice out in the 90s in tests last year — for 91 against England at The Oval and 94 against West Indies on his home ground at Wankhede Stadium. He was also dismissed for 85 against Pakistan during the World Cup semifinals at Mohali.

"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.

He was finally out for 114 on Friday, caught behind off Mashrafe bin Mortaza, who then ran over to shake his hand.

Tendulkar has set a benchmark unlikely to be surpassed in his lifetime, with his closest rival, Ricky Ponting, on 68 international centuries and approaching the twilight of his career at the age of 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 ever.

Bradman, who retired in 1948 with an average of 99.94 runs, once said that Tendulkar reminded him of his own playing style.

"Not even Don Bradman carried expectations like this, and Sachin had been bearing it since 1989," former India coach and Australia captain Greg Chappell wrote in his recent autobiography.

Tendulkar has taken on the best bowlers over the past 23 years including Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis during his first tour of Pakistan in 1989, and the likes of Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Courtney Walsh and Dale Steyn over the rest of his career.

The 38-year-old has restricted his participation in one-day matches since 2010, when he became the first to score a double-century in the 50-over format with 200 not out against South Africa at the Indian venue of Gwalior.

But he remains as energetic as anyone in the field and even while running between the wickets, meaning each speculation of an impending retirement is knocked off with a new achievement.

Tendulkar's ability to accumulate runs has not diminished and he has adjusted well to changing times by not only perfecting new strokes like the "upper cut" and "paddle sweep" but also excelling in the slash and bash of the Twenty20 Indian Premier League.

Asked by commentator Ramiz Raja what message he had for youngsters, Tendulkar advised them to follow their dreams as he felt dreams do come true, as it did for him when he "had to wait for 22 years to win the World Cup."


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