The man they call the God of Cricket laid down his bat for a final time this week, leaving millions of Indians from Mumbai to Cupertino awash in a teary pathos most American sports fans couldn't begin to comprehend.

Sachin Tendulkar, a slight-framed, quiet man of 40, transcends any imaginable comparison to a singular U.S. sports celebrity. He is beloved as much for his pureness as his prowess with the wooden bat.

"He's Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali in terms of what he means to a generation of Indians and beyond," said Kadambari Murali, who until recently served as editor of Sports Illustrated India.

Tendulkar exited Wankhede Stadium in his hometown of Mumbai as perhaps the best batsman in history, taking with him records many fans say never will be broken.

Friends of Hemant Buch crowd around the television at his home in Cupertino, Calif., Thursday evening, Nov. 14, 2013 to watch as Sachin Tendulkar, the
Friends of Hemant Buch crowd around the television at his home in Cupertino, Calif., Thursday evening, Nov. 14, 2013 to watch as Sachin Tendulkar, the recognized "God of Cricket," plays in his 200th, and apparent final match. It was reported that most of the entire nation of India, more than one billion people, took a national holiday to watch the historic event. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

But over the course of nearly a quarter century, Tendulkar also became a unifying symbol to a cricket-crazed country of 22 official languages, as well as the Indian diaspora that is firmly rooted in the Bay Area.

While the South Asian country came to a standstill as India resumed its consecutive-days match against the West Indies, expats gathered in Bay Area homes and restaurants Thursday night to witness history.

Hemant Buch, owner of the California Cricket Academy, invited players and their parents to join his family in Cupertino to watch Tendulkar, aka the "Master Blaster," a genteel 5-foot-5 man who holds almost all of cricket's major run-getting records. Last year, he became the first player to score 100 centuries, or runs, in 100 international matches. And in 2011, he helped India win its first Cricket World Cup title since 1983.

The iconic batsman participated in his record-200th "five-day" match that ended sometime early Saturday morning. He asked that his final game take place in his hometown where his mother, who uses a wheelchair, could see him play live for the first time.

In what would be Tendulkar's final appearance unless West Indies performed a miraculous comeback overnight, the cricketer walked away from the game after 24 years with a simple salute to fans with his wooden bat.

The end came after Tendulkar scored 74 runs -- short of the revered century everyone but the West Indians had prayed to see. Unlike baseball, cricketers compile as many runs as possible during one at bat until they are ruled out.

Tendulkar "fouled" the hard red ball behind him as Darren Sammy caught it while tumbling to the ground to instantly become the answer to a trivia question. The great batsman didn't wait for the umpire to call him out. Tendulkar just walked off.

"Done. Bye, bye," said Sunnyvale's Biju Kattuparambil, whose son plays for the California Cricket Academy. "The happiest person now? My wife."

Football widows across America could appreciate Kattuparambil's pronouncement.

The evening had begun with so much promise as a dozen cricket aficionados gathered at Buch's home for spicy slices of Indian style pizza and steaming cups of chai tea.

Kinjal Buch, Hemant's wife, lit a candle just before the game started.

Kattuparambil, a development manager at Oracle, slumped in a chair with an aching back he said was from not changing positions the previous night while Tendulkar batted for 90 minutes.

Anyone who understands Indians and cricket wouldn't doubt him. Almost every fan is so superstitious he or she won't move while a team is batting.

An arcane bat-and-ball game to many Americans, cricket has fanatic followings in South Asia, Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. The English elite started the game in the 16th century but Indians in particular have embraced it like no others.

Indian school children display posters of Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar as they gather to honor him in Chennai, India, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013.
Indian school children display posters of Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar as they gather to honor him in Chennai, India, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Tendulkar plays his world-record 200th and last test from Thursday in a hometown stadium for which tickets could have been sold 10 times over. (AP Photo/Arun Sankar K) ( Arun Sankar K )

Tendulkar entered this world as a 16-year-old boy wonder in 1989 who has become an aspiration for millions of Indians.

"To understand what Sachin means to India you have to understand the story of the emerging India," said Murali, the former Sports Illustrated editor who spent 13 years traveling with the national cricket team.

The player's ascent to celebrity coincided with India's transformation to capitalism in the early 1990s. As the country experienced political and social upheaval it turned to a curly-haired batsman as its national hero.

"You may have communal riots or race riots, but if there is a cricket match everyone switches on to watch it and support the country," Murali added. "It's not just an obsession, it is a way of life in India."

Hemant Buch has spent two decades trying to re-create the passion for cricket in the Bay Area. He said Thursday his homeland has come to a standstill only twice in modern history. The first time was for Mahatma Gandhi's funeral.

"The second is when Sachin goes to the bat for the last time," Buch said.

Tendulkar's final appearance had special meaning for the Buchs because the batsman welcomed the family into his home in Mumbai three years ago.

Tendulkar's brother Ajit has coached California Cricket Academy players for seven years, usually spending a month here during the summer. The connection came through a San Jose Mercury News story about the academy. Someone in New York called the Buchs offering to introduce them to Ajit after reading it.

Tendulkar's retirement won't be easy to swallow for his rabid fans, who reached a bittersweet conclusion as he climbed the stadium steps past a rapturous Mumbai audience one final time.

"There will be a void," said former cricketer Robin Singh, currently coaching the U.S. team. "But he left a legacy that many will try to emulate and that is sure to inspire generations to achieve greatness."

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.