His retirement from international and first-class cricket on Friday comes on the back of a disastrous tour of Australia where he was bowled six times in eight innings of the four Tests, with just one half-century (68 in Melbourne), a record that was in stark contrast to the five centuries in 10 Tests in the second half of 2011.
The dramatic slump in form only intensified calls for his retirement along with two other seniors, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, both of whom also flopped in Australia. However, Dravid, announcing his retirement on Friday, maintained that his failure in Australia had little to do with his decision to quit cricket.
“I didn’t make this decision based on one series (in Australia). It’s a combination of a lot of other things. I needed to be sure I was playing the game for the right reasons.
“I have done that for 16 years. I have had a great run. It’s not like I have woken up one morning and decided to retire. At the end of the day, I knew I had to go. I didn’t feel the need to drag on any longer,” he said.
In cricket, it is said a player is only as good as his last innings, and so much the pity that Dravid couldn’t finish his career on a high, though the tour of Australia in no way diminishes his stature as one of the modern greats.
Since his Test debut at Lord’s where he announced his arrival with a knock of 95, Dravid went on to establish himself as a premier batsman, respected as much for the 13,000-plus runs he scored, as the technical excellence with which he countered World’s best bowlers.
However, it was his focus and determination while putting a price on his wicket that separated Dravid from the rest. His batting embodied elan and elegance that also reflected in his persona. Stylish yet sober, Dravid often admitted that he was not the most “attractive” of batsmen to watch, though on occasions, the flamboyance surfaced, stunning his critics into silence.
Resilience was his greatest virtue that more often than not extricated his team from troubled waters and in his later years, earned him such sobriquets as “Mr Dependable” and “the Wall”.
“I know I have been called The Wall, but frankly, I thought I was being set up,” he remarked with typical humour that reflected a man who was willing to look at himself in the mirror and not flinch at what he saw.
Knowing Dravid, the praise he would probably cherish the most is that he was acknowledged as the ultimate team man, willing to sacrifice his own interests for the team’s cause as he did in the ODIs.
Although he had started out as a wicket-keeper, Dravid shunned the big gloves, but in the mid-phase of his India career, he agreed to don them again so that the team could accommodate an extra batsman. He also agreed to open the innings for the same reason. Few cared to ask the man whether he enjoyed the additional responsibilities, but the equanimity with which he discharged the duties, his reluctance to keep wickets or open the innings was not noticed.
Like several great players before him, Dravid did not distinguish himself as a leader of men. He was the sort who would rather put his shoulder to the wheel rather than pull the wagon. The discerning were not surprised that his short tenure of 25 Tests as captain fetched him just eight wins before he relinquished captaincy in circumstances that remain a mystery.
Yet, Dravid did well to put those dark days, including the first round exit from the 2007 World Cup, not to mention the brickbats, behind him. “When you play international sport, you have to learn to deal with praise and criticism which are two sides of the same coin. For me, it was about doing my best at all times,” Dravid said on Friday.
Last year, when the calls for retirement of the seniors grew strident, Dravid silenced the critics with three centuries in England who blanked India 4-0. Another century against the touring West Indies seemed to have set up Dravid nicely for what was speculated as his last tour of Australia, but what transpired was a nightmare.
“I think, Rahul faced better bowling in England than in Australia where he developed a technical flaw of falling to his right and reaching for the ball. I did point out to Rahul and also asked him to stand a bit outside the crease while facing the fast bowlers. But these adjustments take a lot of time,” said former Karnataka captain and the current coach Karthik Jeshwanth, who has closely followed Dravid since school days.
“I still feel that Rahul has at least a couple of more seasons in him, but he must have had strong reasons to retire. If at all there is a role model and a complete package, then it is Rahul,” said Jeshwanth whose all-round skills had put him on fringes of national selection.
Articulate with keen interest in the world outside of cricket, Dravid’s communication skills have earned him as much praise as his batting. His speech at the Bradman Oration in Australia recently, earned rave reviews for the thought process and succinct delivery. Consequently, many visualise him in the role of an administrator sooner than later.
For the moment, Dravid has declared his Test innings closed, leaving behind only memories of an era that he dominated, but never quite received the accolades he deserved. However, he lent dignity and grace to Indian cricket, something that cannot be said of many players.