The venue was his home ground, the Chinnaswamy Stadium; but he was not in the Indian jersey. Instead, he was wearing his India blazers. It wasn’t at a packed stadium, where he had wowed millions of fans during his 16-year long international career, but here were around 200 people in a conference room.
Most of the people present in the room had guessed what was to follow. The announcer used a number of metaphors to introduce the man of the hour - Rahul Dravid. But once the former Indian batsman had the mic, there was no fuss. He began by directly coming to the point and said, “I would like to announce my retirement from international and domestic first-class cricket.”
“Once I was like every other boy in India, with a dream of playing for my country”
The humbleness was there to be seen in his speech. Here was the fourth highest all-time run-scorer in Tests, a man who had scored more than 13,000 Test runs at an average of 52.31. But the lines he said after dropping the ‘R’ word showed that his feet were still on the ground.
He said, “Once I was like every other boy in India, with a dream of playing for my country. Yet I could never have imagined a journey so long and so fulfilling.”
A legend who made others look good
Listening to him that day, a person who did not know of Dravid’s achievements would have thought that he was just another state-level cricketer bidding goodbye. Referring to his teammates, he said, “Many of my teammates have become legends, not just in India but in the wider cricketing world.”
Now what Dravid missed to add was that he himself was a legend. He played in an era that is considered a golden era in Indian cricket and he was a central figure in making it special. While it is true that his teammates like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman, among others, were legends, but more often than not he was the batsman giving them company during their best knocks.
Be it Kolkata in 2001 or Lahore in 2006, he was always there; guarding one end while the other legends did the hitting. His reassuring presence at the non-striker's end gave his fellow Indian batsmen the freedom to play their natural attacking game.
Cracked the ODI nut
Dravid also talked about the support that he had received during the tough phases of his career. He said, “A career in sport is almost impossible to manage without the support, and guidance, and reassurance of family and friends. During tough times, and there always are, this is whom we go to.”
Speaking about tough times, the ODI format was considered a tough nut for Dravid to crack. He was written off for not scoring runs quickly and that the shorter format of the game was not his cup of tea. But the fact that he scored 10,000 plus ODI runs at an average close to 40 just goes to show that he cracked both Tests and ODIs.
Fans still miss his assuring presence
When he announced his retirement, many columnists had said that the significance of the announcement will be understood six months down the line when India play Test cricket for the first time in 16 years without “The Wall”.
Five years since that announcement, fans of the game – not just Indian fans – miss his assuring defence and steely determination. His rock solid defence did not only have a calming effect on the dressing room but also helped to soothe the nerves of millions of Indians following the game.
He did thank his fans. He said, “Finally I would like to thank the Indian cricket fan, both here and across the world. The game is lucky to have you and I have been lucky to play before you. To represent India, and thus to represent you, has been a privilege and one which I have always taken seriously.”
“Any longer and it will be for the wrong reason”
Given his talent, a player like Dravid, even playing at 50% of the level he was playing at his peak would easily get selected in the team. But that’s not what nice guys do and he definitely was one. As he had said to Harsha Bhogle, “I know this is the time. Any longer and it will be for the wrong reason.”
One would have thought that he deserved a farewell series or to be carried on the shoulders of his teammates for one last time. But then that would have been so “Un-Dravid”. He gave everything on the cricket field and the moment he realised that he could not do that, he hung up his boots.
For he was a team man in its every sense. He ended his speech by saying, “My approach to cricket has been reasonably simple: it was about giving everything to the team, it was about playing with dignity and it was about upholding the spirit of the game. I hope I have done some of that. I have failed at times, but I have never stopped trying. It is why I leave with sadness but also with pride.”
But like all other good things in life, this too had to come to an end.