For nearly 16 years, fans of Indian cricket breathed easier when Rahul Dravid was in the middle, nurturing the team's innings. He batted for longer than anyone in Test cricket, but he was no mere crease-occupier. Indeed what India will most miss about Dravid, who announced his retirement Friday, is his ability, in adversity, to construct the defining innings. India's ascent to the top of Test cricket was built on two plinths: the engagement of world-power Australia as an equal, and the reformation of its reputation as an inept touring side. Dravid was central to both endeavours. He was a vital supporting act to V.V.S. Laxman in Kolkata during the magical series of 2001 and the highest scorer, despite struggling for form, in the dazzling, scarcely believable victory at Perth in 2008. In between, he engineered transformative Test wins at Headingley (2002), Adelaide (2003), Rawalpindi (2004), and Kingston (2006). Each time he simply refused to yield to the intense pressure that would have broken most men. During this period he was not only India's best batsman — in spite of Sachin Tendulkar's presence — but also the most significant wicket in world cricket.
Although Dravid's incredible achievements didn't always receive the attention they deserved, it bothered him not a bit. If anything, he seemed to enjoy “slipping under the radar”, as he once termed it. During last year's series in England — when Dravid made three hundreds against a high-quality attack in difficult conditions, while the rest of his colleagues faltered — an awestruck Nasser Hussain asked Tendulkar at a charity function what it was like to be Tendulkar. “How come you didn't ask me about being Rahul Dravid?” jested Dravid, tongue firmly in cheek. Much like Tendulkar, Dravid wore his greatness lightly. The reason his appeal wasn't wider was because his ability wasn't as obvious as Tendulkar or Brian Lara's. Dravid's batsmanship wasn't so much about stroke-production — in itself a remarkable blend of the classically orthodox, the awkwardly adjusted, and the scrupulously studious — as it was about mental and physical discipline. He was a batsman's batsman, better appreciated by his peers than the masses. In addition to being a genuinely great batsman, among the very best to have played the game, Dravid was also a first-rate slip catcher (although his catching became less secure in the final stages). He mightn't have been a natural leader, but he was tactically India's most progressive, most aggressive captain of the modern era. Above all, he was, with every fibre of his being, a team-man. It's this quality that enabled him to leave gracefully, a master of timing, to the end.