‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.’ These lines from the Ecclesiastes in the Bible seem commonsensical enough. But to many in public life, especially in the hardwired-with-an-expiry-date world of sports, the time to leave the field can be excrutiatingly difficult. While announcing his retirement from international cricket couldn’t have been easy for Rahul Dravid on Friday, as with his way on the pitch, the 39-year-old cricketer made it look easy. Coming after his retirement from the one-day format of the game last year, Dravid’s decision to hang up his glo-ves in international cricket has the natural grace of logic and reason. It’d be tempting to see his career and artful skills as one of modern cricket’s finest batsmen as a mirror of this calm, Euclidian way of going about things. But like a particular brand of sportsmen that include the footballer Lionel Messi and Roger Federer, Dravid showcased a beautiful violence — evident in a classical cover drive or a slanting of the blade of the bat to run the ball beyond the slip cordon — that belied his legendary demeanour of calmness.
It is the same sense of understatement that makes us forget that Dravid is the second highest-scorer in Test history. (His tally of over 10,000 runs in one-day cricket is also no sign of a cricketer less than comfortable with a shorter form of the game.) His debut in England in June 1996 didn’t contain any expected signs of greatness to come. If he was under the shadow of fellow debutant Sourav Ganguly then, it was Sachin Tendulkar who seemed to overshadow Dravid through his career. But with the clear purpose that a man in love with the sport that’s defined his life has, the Team Indian from Bangalore has left his inedible mark in sports in general and in the sport of cricket in particular. After 164 Tests and 13,288 runs over nearly 27 years, with an average of 52.31 and 36 centuries, Dravid’s statistics only confirm what is obvious to anyone who has seen him padded up in full flow — either as an offensive batsman or in defence.
What marks Dravid out as a special sportsman — and we would argue an even more special sportsman than Tendulkar — is his ability to weld his talent as a cricketer to the fortunes of his team. Who can forget Dravid’s 180 at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in 2001 against Australia? Following on, VVS Laxman and he put on 376 runs for a fifth wicket partnership in the second innings, with the result of an improbable Indian victory. In 2004, Dravid’s 270 in the Rawalpindi second Test sealed, stamped and delivered the first ever Indian series victory against Pakistan in Pakistan. His role in averting sure defeats completes the picture of a team man. This career, hardly encapsulated properly by his epithet, ‘The Wall’, came to an end this week, only for us to savour it more by remembering a gentleman warrior whose feats will be remembered by what he did on the cricketing field, and never off it.