Throughout his 16-year career, Rahul Dravid has been Indian cricket’s go-to man. Need someone to see out the new ball in testing conditions on a pitch that is helping the bowlers? Dravid was there. Need someone to keep wickets to accommodate a specialist batsman in one-day cricket? Enter, Dravid. Need a safe pair of hands in the slip cordon or someone willing to field in close-in positions? Dravid again. So it was no surprise when Indian cricket’s crisis engendered calls for the ageing stars to be replaced, it was Dravid who stood up and called it a day. Not that he isn’t good enough — five centuries in 2011 including three in England are testimony to his tremendous ability — but he felt it was the right time to leave. After all, who can question a man of Dravid's ability and judgement on “leaving”, after he played the role of India’s most dependable batsmen for over 15 years?
The accolades that are piling up now as he steps down mask the fact that it wasn’t easy for Dravid to find a place in the hearts of Indian cricket fans who have shown they prefer style (Laxman) over substance, flamboyance (Sehwag) over steel, and street-smartness (Sourav Ganguly) over dogged determination. For the first few years of his career, Dravid was considered someone who can do the job but didn’t really excite the fans. Dravid’s technical superiority meant that — bizarrely — he was never considered a good One Day player. But true to his character, Dravid silenced all the doubters up with a fantastic World Cup in England in 1999. He was the highest run-getter in the tournament and it was then he finally cemented his place in the Indian team. His ability in the shorter form of the game was always under the microscope; and yet he signs off as the seventh highest run getter of all time.
There have been so many great moments in Dravid’s career that it is difficult to pick one that stands out: the glorious 233 against Australia in 2003-04, maybe, or the 148 against England in Headingley or the 270 against Pakistan in Lahore, which should be used as a manual of textbook batting. Dravid delivered when it mattered the most, and he did so in an unassuming, self-effacing manner. Cricket can, at one level, be an individual’s game, but Dravid was respected by his peers not just as a consummate professional but a team player. He steered clear of controversy, never made outrageous statements and let his cricket do the talking. Much has been written about his cricketing successes. But for aspiring cricketers, he stands for a rapidly diminishing value too. Like many top cricketers of his generation, he benefited handsomely from the money pouring into the game. Unlike many, he managed to retain a gentlemanly dignity in a sport that is becoming hostage to hard-bitten commercialism. That’s because, for him, the game always came first. When the former Australian captain, Steve Waugh, wrote his biography, he requested Dravid to write the foreword. This is what Dravid had to say: “Greatness was not handed to him. He pursued it diligently and single-mindedly.” Dravid didn’t exactly pursue greatness, but when you play with such dedication and possess such talent, greatness couldn’t be far behind.