Bulldog Boucher retires as fears mount for his eyesight
Mark Boucher was denied two major milestones when an eye injury he suffered in a tour match against Somerset on Monday, forced him into premature retirement from international cricket.
Unfortunately Boucher’s eye was severely lacerated when a bail hit him in the face after a Imran Tahir delivery castled a Somerset tail-ender.
His teammates and much of the cricketing fraternity have rallied around “the Bulldog” of the Proteas and have led the plaudits and messages of thanks for this great servant of the game. There is also fear that Boucher could lose the sight in his eye.
Boucher exited earlier than he would have liked – the England sojourn would have been his last – on 999 dismissals including 555 (532 catches, 23 stumpings) from 147 Tests with a batting average of 30.3. Boucher’s 295 ODIs at an average of 28.57 and a strike rate of 84 (403 catches, 22 stumpings) speaks of his durability and talent and demonstrates how much he will be missed by the Proteas for his fighting qualities.
Included in the total of 999 is a catch he took in the field against the West Indies when AB De Villiers was keeping wicket.
Boucher would have been the first wicketkeeper ever to affect 1000 dismissals in all forms of cricket. His average of just over 30 in Tests would have been more than just a neat one for keepers, until one Adam Gilchrist altered the landscape quite significantly. So the odds were on that he would have reached 150 Tests (in the third Test at Lord’s) had fate not stepped in and increased his number of dismissals in all forms of cricket to way beyond the 1000-mark.
So as they say, the statistics speak for themselves.
Does it justify affixing him with the label of the greatest wicketkeeper, arguably of all time? Like one website already has? The jury is out and unfortunately, I must admit it I myself am just a bit wary to come to that conclusion at this juncture.
Labelled ‘as a man to go to war with and not against’ as Cricinfo.com puts it, Boucher’s in-your-face approach did not go down well with both administrators and players alike. Boucher did not kowtow to politicians especially and people in the know speak of his intense dislike of politicians.
So given the political nature of the South African sporting fraternity, he must have rubbed up many a politician the wrong way. Be that as it may, Boucher is of course a highly respected and feted individual especially in his country. If Graeme Smith was first on the team sheet as captain, Boucher’s would be not below, but next to that of his leader. A man you’d certainly go to war with. However, his acerbic nature did get him into trouble at least once.
Haroon Lorgat a former convenor of selectors, and recently outgoing CEO of the ICC, dropped Boucher from the team a few years ago to teach him a lesson. Boucher it was believed could sometimes be a dividing influence in the team, that had in its midst an old-school clique, who made life very difficult for squad newcomers. The setback did have the desired effect, but it also showed the powers-that-be that an absent Boucher left a huge vacuum in the side. That was 2004.
Fast forward to January 2005 and Lorgat announced that Boucher would be recalled to the team. South Africa had just levelled the home series against England 1-1 after a 196-run victory in Johannesburg. Western Province’s Thami Tsolekile had replaced Boucher for a two Test series in India and the first Test against England at home, before making way for AB De Villiers as keeper in the second Test. Lorgat sent out an SOS for Boucher, after sending Tsolekile packing so he could work on his batting.
Boucher’s name crops up on the various scoresheets in tandem with some great South African bowlers, among them, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock. Without names like these, he would not have achieved his lofty status.
Boucher was no mug with the bat as many would know. He could turn the game with pure grunt and determination. Who would forget his unbeaten 53 off 43 balls in that ODI against the Aussies at the Wanderers, with South Africa beating 434 for victory? His unbeaten 147 off only 68 balls (strike rate of 216) against granted, much lesser opposition in the form of Zimbabwe at Potchefstroom in a 2006 ODI, was an indication of an immense talent.
Tsolekile, the near-forgotten man, now steps into the breach again.
When he came into the side after Lorgat’s purge, he was thrown into the deep end, having to keep wicket on the slow, low surfaces of India in 2004. Unfortunately it counted against him and he certainly didn’t impress, especially with the bat. Tsolekile, however, has grown and matured in leaps and bounds, especially at franchise level for the Highveld Lions. He has taken 433 catches and produced 33 stumpings in first-class cricket.
Now the jury is out whether he will play in England, as in all likelihood, AB De Villiers will take the gloves for the first Test at the Oval next Thursday. Now one must ask is it wise, if it does happen, to give De Villiers the gloves when a specialist wicket-keeper might be needed, especially in the light of what happened to Boucher? According to a local newspaper, team management are less the wiser. So much so for the trust placed in Tsolekile by flying him in.
Or is his possible sitting on the sidelines a throwback to his 2004 performance for the Proteas. Hardly fair I think.