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By Suresh Menon
Rahul Dravid has not merely hung up his boots; a special type of player has returned with him to the pavilion, perhaps never to be seen again.
Dravid believed that the best sportsmen were incomplete if they did not conduct their lives with dignity, integrity, courage and modesty, all of which were compatible with pride ambition, determination and competitiveness. He was the embodiment of his ideals, and that, over an international career of 16 years is as significant as the runs he made or the catches he took. He made an incredible 23 percent of the runs scored by India in the 21 Test victories under Sourav Ganguly (at an average of 102.84) that put India on the road to becoming the No 1 Test team in the world.
Dravid is the cricketer’s cricketer, the consummate professional, and the glue that held the Indian team together for a decade and a half. It was the quiet, dignified confidence of Dravid that allowed the next generation to display the aggressive entitlement associated with the likes Virat Kohli who is the most obvious successor to the great man.
Dravid’s strike rate in T20 internationals is 147. In one-day internationals, he is one of only ten batsmen with over 10,000 runs. Those figures say more about his character and professionalism than his record in Test cricket, the format he was born to play. In his early years it was believed that he was a misfit in one-day cricket; in the evening of his career received wisdom was that he didn’t fit into the T20 scheme of things. Dravid has made a cottage industry of proving such perceptions wrong.
Few players captured Dravid quite as dramatically as Steve Waugh, who said after the 180 in Kolkata and the famous partnership with V V S Laxman: “Rahul’s batting was poetic, with flowing follow-throughs that capitalised on exceptional footwork and a rock-solid base. His head was like the statue of David, allowing for perfect balance.”
When he started out, Dravid’s ambition was to be clubbed with Gavaskar and Vishwanath. In a country obsessed with rankings, Dravid will be ranked above his heroes. Batting at number 3 is one of the most tension-filled jobs in cricket. On 66 occasions, Dravid has had to walk out with the score under 10.
Dravid has earned his rest. But what of the rest of us? When India are in trouble, we can never again console ourselves with the thought: “Dravid’s at the crease, all’s right with the world.” Dravid had nothing left to prove.
In the context of great literature, the critic Cyril Connolly has spoken about two of the enemies of promise that reduce the motivation to carry on. One is success, and the other is a happy family life. “Children dissipate the longing for immortality,” he has written. Thankfully, Dravid has both, success and a happy family life, and they have sustained him through a long and productive career.
Where does Dravid go from here? More significantly, where does Indian cricket? It is not difficult to imagine Dravid responding to an SOS some years from now, and making a century in a Test. His friend Javagal Srinath certainly thinks he is capable of the feat even at 45. Pragmatism and nostalgia would combine nicely then.
Meanwhile, India’s greatest crisis man has just gone against the grain, causing a crisis rather than fixing it. But that’s the nature of sport, and Dravid deserves to hang up his cape, set his X-ray vision aside and repair his teeth after so many years of catching bullets in them. He will be missed at number three, at first slip, and in the dressing room.