Amid the fireworks following MS Dhoni's international retirement, what would any cricket fan born after about 1990 make of the death of a Test match opener who scored 2084 runs, averaged 31.57 and didn't score a hundred? They will see him on YouTube, being pushed vigorously by an irate Sunil Gavaskar demanding that he walk off the field with him. Chauhan goes trudgingly, grudgingly.

In a world swimming with data, let's use data to respond.

Chetan Chauhan was for three decades one half of India's most successful Test match opening partnership. Chauhan-Gavaskar still averages a tick more than Gambhir-Sehwag, and now stand at No. 2.

To understand the significance of Chetan Pratap Singh Chauhan you needed be alive to Indian cricket when the achievements of an entire era were measured, like the life of Prufrock, with coffee spoons. Chauhan's opening partnership with Sunil Gavaskar, who grew through the 1970s to become the first global superstar out of Indian cricket, was the bedrock on which our Test match optimism rested. Gavaskar earned the headlines, Chauhan our gratitude. For not yielding, for fighting, for holding his end up, while at the other end, Gavaskar responded with the power and beauty of his batsmanship.

The chase of 438 at the Oval in 1979 is remembered for Gavaskar's 221, but hope first floated when he, with Chauhan, put up 213. The best of their partnerships - 85, 97, 192, 153, 119, 124, 79, 213, 114, the other 192, 125, 165, 114 again - always created dreams. That the middle order of GR Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Jimmy Amarnath, Yashpal Sharma and Sandeep Patil would follow suit and India would triumph. Or at least survive. Draws were beautiful too.

Chauhan, with his triple-barrelled name and handlebar moustache was central to that era of striving, the period between the wonders of '71 and the miracle that was '83. We waited longingly for his well-deserved first Test hundred as a reward for his labour, crushed every time he fell close. At home, my mother created a nickname for him: Chetan Chattaan, the second word the Hindi for a formidable, immovable mountain peak.

He represented Indian cricket's north Indianness at a time when Bombay ruled, but he had begun in the west, growing up on the matting wickets of Pune and appearing for Maharashtra and West Zone. Chauhan's batting belonged to that time and place, built on the base of solid defence and back-foot play. His wicket was a treasure to be guarded, not a stage for entertainment. Bowlers were adversaries who could be smiled at triumphantly even after playing and missing - I'm still here, try again. His move to Delhi in 1975 was to make Chauhan's career and find him friends for life. He was part of the Delhi teams that first made the Ranji final and then won their first title, in 1978-79. Chauhan scored 11,143 first-class runs in all, with 21 centuries, at 40.22.

To understand Chauhan and his batting, though, youthful readers, listen to this story. In early September 1977, playing for St Stephen's, the Delhi, Railways and Delhi Daredevils cricket administrator and former India manager Amrit Mathur ran into Chauhan at a pre-season friendly against Bank of Baroda. Facing a Stephen's quick, Chauhan was hit flush on his left jaw, ducking into a ball that didn't rise as much as expected. To the horror of his partner, the umpires and the young students fielding, the ball shattered Chauhan's jaw, knocked out a few teeth and left blood all over the crease.

Mathur then took Chauhan, riding pillion with a broken jaw, 7km on a Bajaj 1975 scooter to the RML Hospital, where the staff had been alerted. The splintered jaw was wired up, made immobile, and Chauhan was told he couldn't eat until it healed, and that he needed to stay away from cricket for two or three months. Chauhan ignored the advice and turned up for the Duleep Trophy a few weeks later, travelling to Bangalore and Delhi.

Why Chetan Chauhan mattered
Chetan Chauhan: Gavaskar's long-time opening partner

He batted with the wired jaw, still on a liquid diet, scored a century in the final, and then returned to the Indian team after a gap of nearly five years. In his first overseas Test innings, he opened against Jeff Thomson in Perth and scored 88. He always was, Mathur says, the living example of advice to batsmen to forget the previous ball no matter what. Miss it, forget it: "Look at Chetan."

Chauhan was also India manager, including for the memorable 2001 home series against Australia. In the middle of its spinning fortunes, he would, John Wright recounts in Indian Summers, supply occasional throwaway old-pro nuggets in his familiar earnest, urgent tones. "It's a crime to get out for 20s and 30s in Tests; this is Test cricket."

At the time of his death, Chauhan was a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government with the portfolio of Sainik Welfare, home guards, and civil security, after having been seemingly nudged out of the sports ministry earlier in the year. He entered politics fighting his first election in 1991, was a two-time member of parliament, and also held office in the controversy-ridden Delhi District Cricket Association, where he remained the sole cricketing person amidst a clutch of operators. As many political posts as Chauhan occupied, cricket remained his priority. He would be seen at first-class matches, walking the Kotla periphery, accompanied by either reporters or other cricket folk, telling stories, their laughter echoing over the empty ground during somnolent sessions.

When there were heated discussions about the decrepit state of the Old Ferozshah Kotla stadium, a move south of the venue was discussed. There was more land available for a modern stadium, with proper parking and other trimmings. Chauhan was having none of it. He wanted Delhi cricket's HQ to stay where it was, in the heart of the city, next to the original 14th century fortress from which the ground got its name, and a stone's throw from the 17th century walled Old Delhi. He was to say to my friend the journalist Neeru Bhatia, "Main yahaan se jaane waala nahin." I am not leaving this place. Digging in, just like he did against Thompson, Imran, Willis and Hadlee.

To Indian cricket, Chauhan will always remain "partner". Not just to Sunil Gavaskar, but to an age when his presence stood for reliability and doggedness. As his words to young men battling excitement and nerves in the dressing room in 2001 had it, he was always about batting "like you're the last man".

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo