Friday, March 9, 2012

Dravid retires, sad but proud

Rahul Dravid announced his retirement from international cricket on Friday, ending a career that underpinned India's rise to the top of the sport. Dravid, 39, who said he was leaving the game sad but proud, announced his decision at a press conference in Bangalore that was also attended by N Srinivasan, the BCCI president. 

Dravid became the first of India's senior-most cricketers - including Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman - to quit the game after a season of speculation surrounding their future. His decision follows a poor tour of Australia but he enjoyed a prolific run through 2011, scoring five centuries - including four in the Caribbean and England. However, he is set to captain Rajasthan Royals in the upcoming IPL season. 

The first public tribute came from Tendulkar, who said no tribute was enough for the "one and only" Dravid. "There was and is only one Rahul Dravid. There can be no other. I will miss Rahul in the dressing room and out in the middle," he said.

Dravid, who made his debut at Lord's in 1996, scoring 95, ended his career as one of the greatest players of his generation and among the most accomplished ever. He scored 13,288 Test runs - behind only Tendulkar - in 164 matches, with 36 hundreds at an average of 52.31. His ODI career, which effectively ended in 2008 with a brief reprisal in 2011, was scarcely less successful - it yielded more than 10,000 runs and 12 centuries. He also has 210 catches, a Test record, in addition to 196 catches in ODIs. 

Behind the statistics, he will be remembered as the consummate team player, moving around in the batting order to suit the team's requirements and keeping wickets when necessary - most strikingly in ODIs, when his double role gave the team balance on its way to the World Cup final in 2003. His remarkable fitness allowed him to play 93 consecutive Tests from his debut to December 2005. 

He will be remembered as one of the last classical Test match batsmen, renowned for his technique and a willingness to bat through difficult circumstances - and over prolonged periods - yet able to stroke the ball around when the mood struck him. He was the anchor of India's famous middle-order, keeping the innings together while the strokeplayers - Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly - played a more attacking role. He appeared to especially flourish in partnership with Laxman, never more so than in the Eden Gardens Test of 2001. 

His batting qualities and efforts were often overshadowed by the flair of his team-mates yet they were brought into sharp focus over the past year with India's Test team struggling through a period of transition. Dravid showed his class on the tour to England in 2011. In a series in which India were completely outplayed and none of their other batsmen scored more than 275 runs in the Tests, Dravid amassed 461, including three hundreds, two of them when opening the innings against a high-quality pace attack. However, that was followed by a poor series in Australia, which reopened the debate about his retirement. 

As a captain Dravid had mixed success; he led India in 25 Tests, winning eight and losing six. Under him India cemented a newly won reputation for being good travellers, winning Test series in Pakistan in 2003-04 - he captained in two out of three Tests - West Indies in 2006 and in England in 2007. His captaincy coincided with Greg Chappell's controversial term as coach, though, and Dravid was clearly uncomfortable with the role. 

Yet he was seen as one of the game's thinkers, meriting a place on the MCC's cricket committee and delivering the Bradman Oration in December 2011 - the first cricketer from outside Australia to do so.