Mumbai: Fighting back tears at a star-studded felicitation function, an emotional Rahul Dravid on Tuesday said that he had lived the dream of playing for his country for 16 years and was confident the future lot of players would take Indian cricket to greater heights.
Dravid said that he had made a pact with himself not to cry though he was "tested to the limits", in a function attended by a galaxy of former and current India cricketers, BCCI officials and other dignitaries.
"I had made a pact with myself I would not cry, but it`s been tested to its limits," said the batting great, who announced his retirement from international cricket on March 9. Watched by his long-time India mates Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, V V S Laxman, current captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and other team members, Dravid said he was fortunate to have donned the country`s colours after having seen greats like Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath and Kapil Dev in action.
Dravid has scored over 23,000 international runs and stands second behind Sachin Tendulkar in the all-time Test batting chart. Both Kapil, who inspired him by leading the country to the 1983 World Cup, and fellow great Tendulkar were, however, absent from the function.
"Nearly three weeks ago I announced my retirement and I am taking it all in. I am finding it difficult to go to the gym every day with the IPL keeping me busy for the next two months. I won`t be playing for India anymore but I would be watching the Indian team members perform by sitting in front of TV with a cup of tea and biscuits.
"I am sure Mahi (Mahendra Singh Dhoni) and his team will take Indian cricket to greater heights," he said in the presence of former cricketers Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ajit Wadekar and Bapu Nadkarni among others Dravid indicated that the Indian team was not meted out the same treatment it is now, around the time he made his debut in 1996.
"When I started my career in 1996 Indian team was considered as sort of second class citizens by England who made us play in the first part of the season and in small grounds. But now we have become the big boys of cricket and it is mostly due to the performance of the cricket team of which I was part of and also due to the BCCI officials," he said.
"I am sure the exciting and talented lot of cricketers will make Indian cricket strong on and off the field," he said after being awarded a silver salver by the BCCI as a memento.
Dravid thanked former team-mates Kumble, Ganguly, Laxman and Dhoni. "My relationship with you Sourav was like a husband and wife (when he was vice-captain to Ganguly). It had its ups and downs but eventually we came out with flying colours." He said without Laxman, he would not have had the greatest days of his career, especially the come-from-behind 376-run partnership the two forged in Kolkata in March 2001 to turn a losing game into a winning one against the all-conquering Australian team led by Steve Waugh.
"One of the greatest days of my career was because of you otherwise Kolkata would not have been possible. What I saw from you from the other end was one of the greatest innings played by any Indian batsman ever," he remarked about Laxman`s epic 281. Dravid made 180 in that Test as India turned the tables on Australia after following on at the Eden Gardens.
He also praised Dhoni`s captaincy and said it was a great moment for him when the Indian team, led by the Jharkhand star lifted the World Cup almost a year ago.
"You can be really proud of the way you and your boys lifted the World Cup. It was a very special moment for me especially after what happened in 2007 (when Dravid-led team made a shock first round exit in the West Indies)."