NEW DELHI: Classy, conventional, cool in a crisis and controversy-free, Rahul Dravid is an idol and superstar of Indian cricket as well as a gentlemanly competitor revered by opponents the world over.
The top-order batsman, who has anchored India's national team for the last decade and a half, was only the second Indian after Sachin Tendulkar to have completed 10,000 runs in both Tests (13,288) and one-dayers (10,889).
Known as “The Wall” for his solid defence and unflappable temperament – a tag he never liked himself – he was renowned for his elegant stroke-play and ability to grind down opponents while withstanding the most intense match-day pressures.
His decision to call it a day came with the realisation that his once-formidable reflexes were beginning to crumble after he managed just 194 runs in eight innings in the recent Test series in Australia.
His series average of 24.25 was unacceptable for the 39-year-old perfectionist with a career average of 52.31 in 164 Tests with the help of 36 centuries.
Dravid had quit as skipper following his below-par performances in South Africa in 2006-2007 and in England in 2007 when he felt captaincy had been a burden that hindered his pursuit of runs.
Alongside superstars Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly, Dravid was an integral part of the galaxy of batting talent that has graced contemporary Indian cricket.
He was not an explosive stroke-maker like Tendulkar or Sehwag, but was second to none when it came to building an innings under pressure with judicious shot-selection and immense concentration.
“Once Dravid was set, you needed the bowling equivalent of a dozen cannon firing all at once to blast him down,” Australian spin legend Shane Warne wrote in his book “Shane Warne's Century.”
“True, he is not a batsman to destroy you in a mad half-hour like a Lara or a Gilchrist, but he can grind you down and test your patience bit by bit until you lose your concentration and forget your plan.”
Dravid, a safe slip fielder with a world record 210 Test catches, was an ideal number-three batsman as he had the technique to cope with quality pace as well as spin.
He burst into the national team in 1996 when he made a solid 95 on his Test debut against England at Lord's and played many match-winning innings in testing conditions.
Dravid was in the middle when India did the unthinkable against Steve Waugh's Australians in the second Test at Kolkata in 2001, conjuring up a fairy-tale win after being forced to follow on.
He compiled a composed 180 in a massive 376-run stand for the fifth wicket with Laxman (281) to eventually help his team end Australia's amazing 16-match winning streak.
Dravid was on song in 2002 when he hammered centuries in four successive Tests – three in England and one against the West Indies at home.
He continued to contribute in away Test wins, with a hundred against England at Leeds in 2002, a double-century against Australia at Adelaide in 2003 and a pair of half-centuries against the West Indies on a difficult pitch in Kingston in 2006.
Most recently, he cracked three Test hundreds in England last year when his team-mates were floundering against a sharp, disciplined pace attack.
His last century came in November last year when he scored a brilliant 119 against the West Indies at the famous Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
“It feels that I am in some good form. I have hit a good patch and I am in a good space with my game, so I am really trying to make it count,” said Dravid afterwards.
He led India to rare Test series wins in the West Indies in 2006, the first in 35 years, and then in England in 2007, the first in 21 years.
“A great thing about Rahul is that he has always loved to work hard, always trying to stay a step ahead of the game,” Tendulkar once said.
“He is the perfect team man.”