By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Recovering from a tennis-elbow injury was the most difficult phase in Sachin Tendulkar's illustrious cricket career with the master batsman fearing he would never be able to hold a bat again after surgery in 2005.
The diminutive Indian bid an emotional farewell to the sport at his home Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, signing off as cricket's most prolific run-scorer after a sparkling career that spanned almost a quarter of a century.
Tendulkar was first diagnosed with the career-threatening injury in 2004 but continued to play through pain before being operated on a year later in London.
"It's always very difficult when you suffer injuries. Coincidentally my injuries were not common ones," Tendulkar, sporting his navy blue India team blazer over a white shirt, told reporters on Sunday.
"There used to be different goals every time I made a comeback. It's not possible to recover earlier than scheduled by just working harder in the gym."
The thought of giving up the sport for good crossed Tendulkar's mind as he tried to get back on the field after the surgery.
"It took four-and-a half months to recover after the surgery on my tennis elbow. The doctor asked if I would be able to play competitive cricket at all," he said.
"I could not even lift my son Arjun's plastic bat. Kids aged 10-12 years had come to the ground for fielding the day I went to bat for the first time against a season (leather) ball.
"I hit the balls hard but the kids were able to stop them within 10-15 yards. I thought 'I can not play anymore'."
Speaking to reporters in a packed conference hall at a hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea, Tendulkar said the fact he would never play competitive cricket again was yet to sink in for him.
But he promised to remain associated with the game at certain levels.
"I have played for 24 years and it has not been 24 hours yet and I believe I have earned at least 24 hours of rest," the 40-year-old said, adding he woke up early as usual on Sunday just to realize it was needless.
"Cricket is like oxygen for me and 30 years out of 40 I've played cricket, so that makes it 75 percent of my life.
"I will remain associated with the game, may be not in the immediate future."
Tendulkar left the game after playing more test matches (200), scoring the most test (15,921) and one-day international (18,426) runs, and compiling more test (51) and one-day (49) hundreds than any other player in cricket history.
He picked the victory in the 50-over World Cup at home in 2011 as the high point of his career.
"I had to wait for 22 years. It was a special moment, also my last day in international cricket (Saturday)," added Tendulkar, who was joined by his wife Anjali at the news conference.
"Biggest disappointment was losing in the 2003 World Cup final - we were playing so well but could not cross that final hurdle."
India, under Sourav Ganguly's captaincy, reached the final of the World Cup in South Africa but lost to Australia in the championship match.
(Editing by Alison Wildey)