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You can take Rahul Dravid out of cricket, but you cannot take cricket out of Rahul Dravid!
The legendary batsman was struggling to hold back tears as he relived his journey in international cricket while also paying tribute to his team-mates. It was clear he is still finding it difficult to digest that cricket won't be a part of his daily life anymore.
"I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn't cry in any of the functions over the last two or three weeks. I think it has been tested to the limit today," he said in Mumbai, at a glittering function organised by the BCCI to felicitate his contribution to Indian cricket.
Dravid said it was a dream come true to have represented India, but the feeling that his time in cricket is over is yet to sink in.
"It has been nearly three weeks since I announced my retirement form international cricket and first-class cricket. It has really given me a chance over the last three weeks to sort of sit back and in some ways take it all in, and look back on what for me was a dream come true. At one time, like any other kid in the street, any other kid in India, with a love for this game and a desire to play for India. Hence, I feel so blessed that I have been able to live that dream for over 16 years," he said.
The 39-year-old also pointed out that age is finally catching up on him and he is finding it hard to motivate himself to even undertake physical training.
"Obviously, like some of the other guys have mentioned, with the IPL to come in the next couple of months, it does not feel like I have retired in some ways. There is still time to stay fit; it is getting harder and harder. I am not enjoying going to the gym, but I am still being forced to, at least for the next two months," he said.
Dravid is regarded as one of the best batsmen to have played Test cricket, having scored 13288 runs in 164 Tests, at an average of 52.31, including 36 centuries. The veteran batsman pointed out that his 16-year cricketing career was not only about scoring runs or taking catches, but also about visiting new places, playing in different countries and against the top players from around the world.
"I have had a chance over the last three weeks to try and think about what playing for India meant to me; what was this dream, what has it given me. Playing for India gave me the opportunity to travel the world, to play on some of the greatest grounds in the world... in cities and countries that I had only heard of on the radio; listening to radio commentary with my father or waking up in the morning and picking up the newspaper to see what Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, GR Viswanath had done the next day. For me, to have the opportunity to play on these great grounds, to play against some of these greatest players -- players that I had growing up looking upto -- it was fantastic. Cricket has given me a lifetime of experiences," he said.
"It has made me give joy to a lot of people by just playing a sport that I love. I have experiences, some unbelievable victories and crushing defeats in my career as a first-class cricketer. What I have realised with it is everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive. Playing for India humbled me. It made me appreciate how lucky I was to be able to do what I did for so long," the former India captain added.
Dravid also took the opportunity to thank everyone who had been part of his wonderful journey in cricket, ranging from his coaches to the groundstaff who prepared pitches on whichever grounds he played.
"When I look back on this long journey, you recognise that you have been very fortunate, very lucky. You have had the support of so many people who have made this dream possible for me. I truly feel that I have been in some ways at the right place, at the right time.
"For me to be able to standing here in front of some of my heroes, people whom I admire, people whom I respect and to be able to talk to you all, I think, it has not been culmination of not my efforts but the efforts of so many people who have gone into making this wonderful day possible.
"I probably miss out a few people when I speak and I hope that they forgive me. But I would like to put on record and recognise so many people who were behind the scenes, the groundsmen, the scorers, the umpires, the people who organise matches. Wherever you go in India there are so many people who selflessly do honorary jobs to make this game possible for us, to set the stage for us; without their contributions these hundreds would not have been possible, these memories would not have been possible," he said.
He also paid tribute to his coaches, starting from his first coach, the late Keki Tarapore, who was instrumental in shaping his career.
"When I look back on the various coaches that I have had, right from the time of the late Keki Tarapore, who first taught me the basics of the game, to the so many coaches through my time at Karnataka, through all the international coaches that I have had, I feel each of them has added to my game. Each of them helped me become a better cricketer, and a better person. For that, I am thankful."
Among the guests present at the function were former India greats Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar and Bishen Singh Bedi. And Dravid took the opportunity to thank all former Indian cricketers.
"When I stand here and I look at some of the senior players who have been kind enough to come for this occasion, I feel really lucky. As a young boy I dreamed of just being able to get an autograph out of them, just to be able to meet them. This sport has given me a chance to interact with some of them. I would like to thank all my senior cricketers, all my heroes, all my role models for inspiring me. For leaving behind a legacy that I was very conscious of, a legacy of Indian cricket that I was very aware of. It meant something to me, and the life I wanted to lead. And something that I hope they will feel that I have tried to take forward," he said.
Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni also waxed eloquent on Dravid, saying he was one of best cricketers to represent the country.
And Dravid, in turn, saluted the four of them, saying he will cherish the memories he shared with them forever.
"Thanks Anil, thanks Sourav, thanks Laxie [Laxman] and thanks Mahi [Dhoni]. Your words have meant a lot to me. The memories we have shared as a team and some of the victories and things we have achieved will be special and will remain special for me. I would like to believe that we took a great legacy of the Indian team forward. We have left a strong legacy for Mahi and his young team to take forward. I have no doubt that they will take it to even greater heights," he said.
Dravid said he would miss close friend and former team-mate Kumble's intensity and desire, but certainly not his vegetarian meals on tour.
"Anil, I will miss your intensity. I will miss your desire. I have learned so much from watching you. I might not miss some of the vegetarian meals: without mushroom, without onions, without garlic. But there is a lot of that that I will miss."
Dravid, who was deputy when Ganguly was the captain of India, said like all relations even they had their ups and downs but eventually everything went off well.
"Sourav, ours was a great partnership. As you would expect with captains and vice-captains over a long period, it is a relationship like a husband and wife in some ways – it goes through its ups and downs. But I think we both agree that we came through with pretty much flying colours. There are some really good memories that we shared and there are some great moments that we can have a good laugh and a drink over, may be in the IPL," he said.
The right-hander paid rich tributes to Laxman, also one of his close friends, and with whom he had several great partnerships. Dravid said his 376-run partnership with Laxman against Australia in Kolkata in 2001, that turned the match on its head, was one of the best days of his cricketing career. He scores 180 and Laxman 281 as India won the match by 171 runs despite being asked to follow-on by Australia.
"To Laxman, thanks for one the greatest days in my cricketing career. Without you Calcutta would never be possible. I was privileged to be able to have watched one of the greatest innings played by an Indian cricketer ever from the other end. Thanks for your friendship. Thanks for your conversations, thanks for your company at second slip, where many-a-topic including Ranji Trophy to why contractors and architects are not doing a good jobs were discussed," he smiled.
The veteran also lauded Dhoni's captaincy, saying it was a proud moment for him to watch India lift the World Cup last year. Under Dravid's leadership, India failed to make it to the knockout stages of the 2007 World Cup, but the right-hander was happy to see that some of his team-mates went to script history four years later.
"Mahi, I think you can be really proud of what you have done with this Indian cricket team. To watch you lift the World Cup that day, it is almost a year to the day, was very special for me. Especially after what happened in 2007, to see a team and sea a group of boys go on to win the World Cup was indeed memorable. And to see something like that inspired me watching Kapil Dev lift the World Cup as a ten-year-old, to see a group of cricketers and a generation of cricketers that I had played with do it again in 2011 was special," he said.
Dravid believes that Dhoni is the right man to lead the country and despite the failures in England and Australia, he is confident that the Indian team will bounce back in the near future.
"I know that you have inspired a whole host of ten-year-olds by what you and your team did last year. There are challenges as you have noticed over the last bit of time, but I truly believe you have got the right temperament and right capability to take the legacy of Indian cricket forward."
The Karnataka batsman said the BCCI also deserves some credit for uplifting the status of Indian cricket in the last 15 years.
"It has been a fascinating journey for me to see where Indian cricket has reached from the time I started in 1996. I still remember when we went for tours in 1996 sometimes Indian cricket was treated, if I may use the word, as second-class citizens. We were the team that got the first tour of the summer in Engl#8743 we were the team that got sent to some of the smaller grounds. The officials in the BCCI have ensured in 15 years times that we are the big boys of international cricket, that we dictate the terms.
"A lot of that has happened because of the performance of the players, but also because of the work that has been done by various officials, various office bearers during my time with the BCCI," he said.
He also thanked his wife Vijeeta for her contribution in his wonderful journey and said from now on he would take a more interest in the household chores.
"My wife Vijeeta has been a constant partner through thick and thin over all these nine years. There have been many challenges and ups and downs, but her strength has been critical for me. More importantly, Vijeeta has taught me that we must enjoy our successes and our good moments together and I have cherished them. She has raised our children alone and had to manage the house and build a lovely home and manage the children all by herself. All the while she has been sacrificing her own career. Her friendship has been invaluable. And I can promise now the cleaning and the children's homework. And, as Sourav said, I will stay away from the groceries -- may be he had some prior experience," he said.
Dravid said he is excited with the young talent India has its disposal and believes they will achieve great success.
"I may not be playing for India anymore but to the present Indian team what I would like to say is that 'guys, I will watch with great interest what I think is an extremely exciting and really talented group of young cricketers. I hope Indian cricket will always be a strong force, both on the field and off the field. And I have no doubt that I would take great pleasure with a cup of tea and biscuit in my hand watching you guys achieve great things'," Dravid said.
Dravid also acknowledged the role of his family in his success as a cricketer and said he was happy to live his father Sharad's dream.
"I cannot end here today without recognising the role my family has played in my career. My parents who are here today and my brother have at various stages provided me the encouragement, the support and laid a foundation that allowed me to play my cricket. My parents made a lot sacrifices to allow their son to be able to live a dream. I know that my dad has always been a great lover of this game and I think in some ways I lived his dream. As a son you can't ask for anything more."
Dravid was one of the fittest players in the Test team and among the most consistent batsmen. But he pointed out that staying away from home became difficult recently, especially with his two sons growing up.
"My own children -- Samit and Anway -- have missed seeing me at various times. Whenever I come back, irrespective of what I had done, whether I had done well or done badly, they always greeted me with a smile. That made failure on a cricket field a really small matter. Touring over the last year has been extremely difficult because of the fact that I had to stay away from them. I look forward to spending a lot more time with them come June and take a more active part in their lives. I know I will enjoy but I don't know how much they will enjoy me spending more time with them," he said before signing off.