Rahul Dravid is to Sachin Tendulkar what Bill Ponsford was to Don Bradman and Rohan Kanhai was to Garfield Sobers. Dravid, who announced his retirement from international cricket on Friday, was that exceptionally talented and prolific batsman who just happened to be playing for India at the same time as one of the sport's very best.
While the history-challenged cricket fan of today will be asking "Bill who?" or "Rohan who?", there is a better chance that the legacy of Rahul Sharad Dravid will be remembered in the years to come. Ponsford, he of the spectacular scores for Victoria and the record partnership with Woodfull and the Don, had limited opportunities by today's standards and very little archival footage (via the medium of newsreel).
Kanhai, so durable and consistent for the West Indies for almost two decades, at least had the benefit of growing television coverage of the sport. Watch that DVD of the 1975 World Cup final again. That's him, at the other end making his final international appearance, as Clive Lloyd blazes away for his trophy-winning hundred.
Dravid has played his cricket under the constant eye of television cameras. More and more of them. Higher and higher definition. Slower and slower replays. And done so under an increasingly packed (surely unreasonably so) international schedule. And with an ever-adoring, ever-growing, ever-expectant Indian public watching.
I leave the comparisons to Ponsford and Kanhai here. Dravid has almost always excelled in the sixteen years since he first appeared in the international camera frame, with a demeanour that has been impeccable on and off the crease. The one incident that I could find that remotely runs contrary to this image is when he was pinged in a triseries ODI in Australia for "ball-tampering". (I wrote about this "incident" at the time.)
Dravid's legacy while representing India is quite staggering, really, and it seems futile to try and pick out one or two examples. As an Australian I can not ignore his seven-and-a-half hour 180 at Eden Gardens in 2001, partnering with VVS Laxman for 376 after their team followed-on, pointing India towards an astonishing 171-run victory and a series turnaround.
His Test record is quite outstanding. 163 Tests for India in almost sixteen years, 13265 runs averaging 52.6, passing a hundred 36 times. (Add one "Test" for that infamous ICC game in Sydney in 2005, where he scored 23.)
For one-dayers, he was sometimes left aside for being too slow, yet he proved that image at the least misleading so many times. One example? His 129-ball 145 when he was the junior partner with Ganguly in a 318 partnership against Sri Lanka in a 1999 World Cup game at Taunton.
By the time India's triumph in the 2011 World Cup came around, Dravid was no longer a part of their ODI plans, but the year brought one final renaissance on the Test arena. Despite England's 4-0 clean-sweep of their home series, Dravid produced three centuries in eight innings, 461 runs for the series. Another century against the West Indies that November, but a rapid drop in form in Australia - bowled six out of eight times at bat - meant that his international career could extend no further than 17 days beyond his 39th birthday.
The timing of Dravid's retirement announcement, on one of their rare moments when Team India is not in the middle of a series, comes to his credit. The transcript of his retirement speech can be read here, and deserves to be viewed alongside his stirring Bradman Oration delivered in Canberra last December.
Dravid continues to play Twenty20 cricket, for now, as a Rajasthan Royal in the Indian Premier League, but he is a person whose demeanour suggests he will succeed away from cricket, possibly in business, maybe even in politics. I would love to see him taking a role in the governance of the game, either with a reconstructed ICC or a thoroughly renovated BCCI. (The latter may, alas, be a dream too far.)
Here is an excerpt of Rahul Dravid's announcement yesterday of his retirement, as shown on NDTV: