This is my seventh attempt to write something about Rahul Dravid (it was 'sixth' in my last attempt), but I'll try it again. It is difficult to write about a man who is associated with countless adjectives, so I will start by recalling some of the moments that are still fresh in my mind.
India vs South Africa, Durban, 1996
This was the first time I saw Dravid bat as far as I can remember. India were disastrous overseas, especially on fast tracks of South Africa. We were bowled out for a paltry 66, and Dravid was the last man standing. On 27. I was too small to understand, but I clearly remember the sight of helpless Dravid as man after man raced to the pavillion.
We lost the series, but we had finally found a player to carry us on fast, swinging wickets overseas.
World Cup 1999
As Dravid continued to flourish in test cricket, he was either criticized or laughed on for his inability to play one day cricket. He abolished all these myths by becoming the highest run scorer in the tournament. He made two hundreds (145 against Sri Lanka and 104 against Kenya), but not many remember it, because they were overshadowed by the eleven sixes of Sourav Ganguly, and the emotional 140 by Tendulkar who came back to play right after his father's funeral.
India vs Australia, Kolkata, 2001
While this wasn't his best innings ever, it was his most important one. He was on an extended run of bad form, and was one of the rare times he did not play at no. 3 (well, excluding all those innings where he was made the makeshift opener even in tests). Laxman was sent in at no. 3 and Dravid was demoted to no. 5. And while Laxman took all the honours by playing arguably the best innings in test cricket, ever, Dravid reclaimed his no. 3 spot again. His demotion lasted all but one test. Actually just one innings.
233 and 72*, India vs Australia, Adelaide Oval, 2003
His finest performance and his peak as a test player. After the Aussies scored a mammoth 550, India were 83/4 and Ganguly was vivid when Dravid ran him out. However, this was another time when we came back and won a test from a hopeless situation. In the first case it was Dravid who provided a fine supporting act to Laxman at Kolkata. Laxman repayed it back penny for penny at Adelaide.
The final ball of the match which Dravid steered towards the cover boundary, jumped in the air and pumped his fist and took out his blue India cap and kissed it is one of the most unforgettable moments in cricket. Right there with Ganguly's bare chested shirt wave at Lords and Dhoni's nonchalant bat swirl after India won the World Cup.
2004 - 2007, One Day Internationals
This was the period when Dravid was at his absolute best in both forms of the game. He surpassed Tendulkar in career average in tests and had actually replaced him as the most important wicket for the opposition. He also transformed himself completely in one dayers and played either at no. 3 or no. 5 according to the team's needs. He provided stability at the top, but it was at no. 5 where he became a nightmare for the bowlers. He minimized the dot balls, always looked for singles or twos, picked up an odd boundary or two, and became another version of Michael Bevan as he scripted some wonderful finishes along with Yuvraj Singh. Even during the nightmare of 2007 World Cup, my hopes were not dashed out till his wicket was taken.
81 and 68, India vs West Indies, Jamaica, 2006
This is one innings which I remember by heart. It was played on a minefield, where neither team crossed 250, and were both teams were bundled out under 200 once. If ever Dravid had to justify his nickname, "The Wall", it was here. Just innordinate skill.
India vs Australia, 2011-12
This series is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons; the biggest one being watching him get bowled innings after innings. At the risk of overusing the cliche, the wall was finally beginning to break. An intelligent man that he is, Dravid did not take long to realize that anything more, and he will overstay his welcome.
In all the above innings, he showed different qualities -- the master technician, his undying spirit, his ability to adapt, the selflessness, and of course, his "Wall"ness. As somebody who grew up watching him (and the likes of Tendulkar and Ganguly) bat, I can never become a fan of Sehwag or Dhoni or Kohli even if I know they are damn good. I once asked my Dad on how could he become a fan of Dravid who was one full generation after he grew up watching the game. How he could have the same emotions for him as he had for Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Kapil Dev?
He never answered it to me, but if I were to guess it was because he could feel the soul of cricket in Dravid. He played for the love of the game, and everything else was secondary. Which is why it is not ironic that the person who demanded perfection from himself at every point never got that perfect "farewell" series. But after watching his press conference yesterday, I can say with satisfaction that he did, indeed, get a perfect farewell.