Dravid, a man mountain
We won't see another Rahul Dravid again, for sure. The India batsman said his final goodbye as an international cricketer on Friday.
It's been non-stop cricket for him since his Test debut in 1996 and his walking off into the sunset is mournful news for Indian cricket. But as they say, all good things come to an end - so has Dravid's time as an Indian cricketer.
In his very first Test innings at Lord's, he showed he belonged in international cricket. That time the Indian team was not the force it is right now. And against an opposition like England amid swinging conditions, even the very best cow. But Dravid was made of sterner stuff; his dogged 95 amply showed. He did not look back from there.
It's not been an easy journey for him over 164 Tests and 344 ODIs. He started playing at a time when Sachin Tendulkar had already become a cricketing god. Playing in the shadow of arguably the greatest player is no easy stuff. Dravid should be applauded for coming out of Tendulkar's shadow before long.
Not only did he come out of Tendulkar's shadow, he also carved a different niche for himself. In terms of talent he was nowhere close to Tendulkar; in terms of aura again he fell short. But he was as effective as Tendulkar, especially in Test cricket and as endearing as Tendulkar. To hold your own with a great talent like Tendulkar around you is no ordinary feat.
Look at some of his innings and their importance, and he seems to outgrow Tendulkar in stature. It's a tendentious issue but Dravid was the man who was instrumental in India's first major overseas win in many years against Australia in Adelaide in 2003. In a very high-profile series against Pakistan the next year, again he made 270 in the last Test in Rawalpindi to help India wrap up the series 2-1. He also made 180 against Australia in the famous Eden Gardens Test in 2001. People remember that match only for VVS Laxman and rightly so, but Dravid's contribution was equally important in the context of the match.
There have been many such innings and a tome is needed to elaborate on them. There have been a lot of players who have scored thousands of runs, so where has Dravid been different? That's the question. What is Dravid's contribution to Indian cricket, to the game itself?
His contribution is that he finished the job for Team India in Tests overseas. Before him many a time the team smelled victory, but the final blow was never dealt. That changed with Dravid. He taught the team how not to spoil all the good work.
Ask any bowler and they will swear that there was no one who valued his wicket as much as Dravid. Even the greatest technicians swear by his technique. He took challenges by the scruff of the neck. There was a time when his ODI batting was questioned but he improved to such an extent in such a short time that his critics ran for hideouts. True, he wasn't half as good a batsman in ODIs as he was in Tests but determination and doggedness can overcome a great many shortcomings. That's what he proved. Scoring more than 10,000 runs at an average of almost 40 is no joke.
But above all, he was the man who valued dignity more than anything else. That's his contribution to the game. He played cricket as a Victorian, full of ethics. In an era where wins are the only things people want, he did not comprise on his principals. Mind you, the evil of match-fixing damaged the game most during his time. In such a period to have come out squeaky clean calls for a standing ovation.
Parting is never sweet. It's always bitter. So has been the case with the 39-year-old. The four Tests against Australia were nightmarish for him. Unbelievably, he was bowled six times in eight innings. That very much foreshadowed the end for him.
But that's a thing of the past now. He has benefited Indian cricket a great deal and a few failures shouldn't take the sheen off a glorious career. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And, if that is true we are really going to miss him.