Mumbai: The cricketing fraternity came together on Tuesday night to raise a toast for the retired Rahul Dravid as they fondly remembered the immense contribution of the batting stalwart to the Indian team.
Accolades such as "huge pillar" of Indian cricket "greatest No. 3 bat" and one of the "best cricketers and ambassadors" poured in from his former and current team-mates who paid glowing tributes in a star-studded felicitation function here.
Former captains Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and current skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni were among those who spoke at the function attended by a galaxy of former cricketers, BCCI officials and other dignitaries.
While describing him as a "huge pillar", Ganguly said Dravid, who announced his retirement from international cricket on March 9, was a great ambassador of the game.
"He was one huge pillar through which Indian cricket went forward. He is one of the greatest batsmen not just in India but in world cricket," Ganguly said.
"You [Dravid] played in an era when Indian cricket went from strength to strength."
Ganguly rated his 180 against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 as Dravid's best knock. "As far his best knocks are concerned, there are bound to be debates. But as I had said always, the one at Eden Gardens is the best. Though I rate the knocks overseas highly, I think the knock at Eden with VVS [Laxman] not only established him in world cricket but was also important for Indian cricket. I am happy that he could take the decision on his own.
His contribution to Indian cricket isn't finished with the number of runs he has scored or the catches he has taken, he is a great ambassador."
Ganguly said he was lucky to have Dravid as his deputy when he was the captain of the Indian team. "I was lucky to have you as vice-captain for five years, the work you and John [Wright] did."
Recalling his long career, Dravid said that Dhoni's team winning the World Cup last year was a "special moment" for him.
"Mahi, you have to be proud of what you have done with this Indian team ... it was a special moment for me to see the group of boys holding the World Cup last year after 2007 [when India were knocked out in the first round].
"It was a memorable moment. It was inspiring, as a 10-year-old, to see Kapil Dev lift the World Cup, and to do it again in 2011, was special. I know you have inspired a lot of 10-year-olds, there are challenges but you have the right temperament to take the legacy of the Indian team forward."
Dravid said having spent so much time with the team, he will now miss being part of the Indian dressing room.
"I will miss being part of the dressing room, the banter, the camaraderie but not so much the rap music," Dravid said in a lighter vein.
The former Indian captain said that he had made a pact with himself that he would not cry in any of the functions, and it was "tested to the limit" in the last two-three weeks.
Kumble, with whom Dravid combined to effect a number of dismissals, felt it would be difficult for anyone to emulate the cricketer. "Its been a great partnership with you Rahul.
When we look back, we can gladly say we will only remember the wonderful memories. I just spoke about the 55 catches you have taken [off my bowling].
"When his first son Samit was born, somebody sent an SMS message saying caught Dravid b Kumble. But his son cannot be Rahul Dravid. It would be easier for his son to take take two wickets than score the number of runs he has scored, just like it would be easier for my son to have a batting average of 18," Kumble said.
"All of us know how he is as a person. During the evening-outs on tours he would know exactly what I hated. He was at times lost in his own thoughts, probably thinking about how he would bat the next day or analysing the day's proceedings. I know in the next couple of months he would be busy with the IPL. I tell you its going to get busier. I will definitely be missing you in the dressing room.
When I first met you as a 16-year-old, playing for Karnataka Under-19, I was impressed with your passion for the game and your style. We then went on to play for India and I cherish our relationship that blossomed over the years.
"In 1996, Rahul made his debut at Lord's where he got out after scoring 95. He must have been really disappointed not to have got his century. But he proved how much effort, hard work and pride he puts into his game when he scored his century at Lord's in 2011. Celebrations showed how much it meant for him to score it at the Lord's for his country."
Laxman recalled the sacrifices Dravid made in the interest of the team. "He has always been a very selfless cricketer. And that was proved by the various roles he has donned as a cricketer over the years. Right from opening the batting to keeping, he has always showed that for him team comes first.
"All the best to Rahul as he prepares to spend the time with his lovely family. I would also like to congratulate his family for the upbringing and the way he has been. Even after achieving so much he has always remained grounded. I am sure he would contribute to Indian cricket in the future also."