'Dravid walked through obstacles, not around them'
It was an evening filled with emotion in Mumbai - Rahul Dravid almost cried and VVS Laxman had moist eyes, while Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni sang praises of Dravid, one of the flagbearers of Indian cricket's golden generation.
The occasion was Dravid's felicitation by the BCCI, following his recently announced retirement from international and first-class cricket. Two of the biggest men in Indian cricket, BCCI president N Srinivasan (unwell) and Sachin Tendulkar (reasons unknown) might have been absent, but the event, which took place on the plush lawns of a five-star hotel, was still very well attended. Many prominent former cricketers - including Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Bedi, Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar - and the entire India squad that will play the one-off Twenty20 against South Africa, along with senior BCCI officials, were there.
After a recorded message from Srinivasan played out, Kumble, Ganguly, Laxman and Dhoni walked up to the podium to pass on messages of thanks to Dravid. He was 'Jam' to his contemporary, Kumble, and 'Rahul bhai' to younger team-mate and captain Dhoni, who said Dravid was Indian cricket's man Friday.
"He was someone who would walk through obstacles, not someone who would go around the obstacles," Dhoni said, summing up the character of Dravid who, all the speakers agreed, was always willing to give his all at all times. "He was someone who was ready to do anything and everything needed for the team: whether it came to opening the innings, wicketkeeping, or standing at slips or silly point, his answer was always 'yes'," Dhoni said. He also reserved special praise for Dravid's wicketkeeping skills, saying "some of the catches he took, may be a regular wicketkeeper would never have taken [them]".
Dhoni said it was not only him, but all the younger players who were paying a tribute to Dravid through him. Dravid, he said, always prepared the same meticulous way, no matter who the opponent was.
Ganguly, under whose captaincy Dravid played some of his best innings, said having Dravid as a deputy was a 'pillow of comfort'. He held Dravid and the then coach John Wright responsible for him finishing as one of the most successful India captains. "A lot of people talk about me being the captain, but behind the scenes lot of work was done by you [Dravid] and John, which made Indian cricket successful," Ganguly said. "To sum-up your career I can say only one word: outstanding, and I'm sure you must be a proud man today. The contribution you made to Indian cricket [was] not just the runs you scored, but [the fact that] you played in an era in which Indian cricket went from strength to strength."
Kumble said one of Dravid's biggest strengths was his commitment to the task. "We shared a lot of evenings out. He knew what I hated, what I'd order … he'd know what it was. When we were having discussions, we'd be lost in our own thoughts. He would probably be preparing [mentally] for the next day's batting, or analysing the day's play," Kumble said. "This is what his commitment and pride for the game was. This is something that'll be missed in the dressing room."
Laxman, Dravid's best man on so many occasions including the historic Kolkata Test against Australia in 2001, said his forte was humility in the face of big accomplishments. "Even after so many achievements, he has always been level headed and for me that is his greatness," Laxman said in an emotional speech, during which he urged everyone present to stand up and give his friend, Rahul, an ovation.
Dravid, who walked in with his family, wife, children, parents and brother included, listened intently to every speaker and did not forget to thank each of these four former team-mates when his turn to talk came around. He said it was the players' performance along with the support from the BCCI that had helped India move from being regarded as "second-class citizens" to "dictating terms" in international cricket.
Before he said his final goodbye, Dravid told Dhoni and the rest of the India squad that he was certain that Indian cricket's legacy was now in safe hands. "I may not be playing for India anymore but to the present Indian team what I would like to say is: guys, I will watch with great interest what I think is an extremely exciting and really talented group of young cricketers," he said. "I hope Indian cricket will always be a strong force, both on the field and off the field. And I have no doubt that I would take great pleasure, with a cup of tea and a biscuit in my hand, in watching you guys achieve great things."
Read the transcript of Dravid's speech here.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo