By Ashish Magotra

He was the vice-captain, he was the player India needed him to be but most of all, he was ‘The Wall’ that simply stood firm

Few might remember this, for brains are wired to somehow block out the bad memories, but watching Rahul Dravid bat in his early years could sometimes be a frustrating experience. The sharp cuts and fluent drives would somehow find the fielders. The balls that would have been easily put away by Sachin Tendulkar would be nonchalantly batted back to the bowler. Rotating the strike didn’t come naturally either. He would defend. He would create a shell around himself. Dravid would survive but he wouldn’t always score.

It could be frustrating because it was clear to all those watching that he had the shots. The cut, the pull, the hook, the flick -- all played with a lovely classical touch. But it often didn’t come together. Something seemed to be holding him back. One problem appeared to be that, in the perception of fans and selectors alike, ODI cricket was merely a matter of going out there and hitting at everything that comes your way. Everybody should bat like Tendulkar, or Sehwag, or Ganguly. And the pressure to be like them was appearing to weigh him down.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have mattered because that wasn’t the point of Dravid.

The batsman who would play dot balls without a care in the world, hold one end up, and let the others do their thing while he did his, didn’t need to worry about what the world wanted him to do.

Dravid wasn’t about the shots. He was about the grit, the calmness, and the assurance. He was about defiance in the face of stiff odds, and always putting the team ahead of self. There may have been bigger stars around the early Dravid, but no one was ever more focussed on the job at hand than he was.

What allowed him to remain focussed was perhaps a touch of reality. “I wish I could play like Tendulkar or Lara,” he once said, acknowledging that he was not in the same league as them -- or even Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman -- when it came to pure shot-making talent.

But he more than made up for that by working harder, and always keeping his eye on the target. Even late in his career, he would turn up early for the nets at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, and work with the U-19 team if he thought he would help his case or theirs.

That’s not to say that he was passive. Dravid played a record 31,258 deliveries in his Test career and scored 13,288 runs at an average of 52.31. It was the way he got them that was truly the making of him.

Dravid was effective in one-day cricket too.

His career started with a 95 on debut at Lord’s, but a 27 against South Africa in 1996 would define the batter he would become in the coming years better. Most cricket fans will remember the Durban Test as the one in which India were bowled out for 100 and 66 and forget that, in the second innings, Dravid remained unbeaten on 27.

While the others went for the big shots -- deciding to hit out or get out -- Dravid decided to stick it out instead looking for a short-cut or a miracle cure. He was fine with being uncomfortable on the crease, because it knew it was worth it.

Seven years later, at Adelaide in December 2003, he batted 835 minutes for scores of 233 and 72 not out.

India were in trouble at 81 for four before Dravid and Laxman came to the team’s rescue with a triple-century partnership. By this point, we had come to expect this of Dravid.

The other thing we had come to expect of Dravid was some incredible slip-catching. His concentration helped him, as did his soft hands. While he got the job done while the pacers were bowling, it was against spinners (expecially Kumble) that he was especially brilliant.

His captaincy, too, was characterised by intensity. While Ganguly was instinctive, with Dravid everything seemed to have a set order. It didn’t always work well, but in 2007, Dravid became only the third Indian captain -- after Ajit Wadekar (1971) and Kapil Dev (1986) -- to win a Test series in England.

These qualities -- grit, patience and intensity -- stood him in good stead right up to his last year in international cricket. The 2011 tour of England was a disaster for India, but even in the Dravid stood tall, undefeated and unbowed. In four Tests, he scored 461 runs at an average of 76.83. The next best for India was Tendulkar with 273 runs at an average of 34.12.

Yet, a series later, Dravid decided he was done. He didn’t have the best tour of Australia (194 runs @ 24.25) and woke up one morning feeling like his career had run its course because he was getting into the habit of getting bowled through the gate by coming down on the ball a trifle late -- an indication that, at 39, the hand-eye coordination wasn’t there any longer.

“Good season or not, the time is right to go,” he said. “When your body and mind start sending you signs, you know. It’s also time for Indian cricket to look forward.”

Once again, he had put India ahead of himself. That, once again, was Dravid we knew, and the Dravid we trusted.

2001 - 2006