Ode to a cricket warrior

2012-07-13 00:00

MARK Boucher’s career should not have ended as meekly as it did on a grey day in Taunton. It just does not tie in with his fiery character. However, Boucher was a rare breed, and his ilk comes around once in a lifetime.

I would not want to be in Imran Tahir’s shoes right now. Indirectly, he is responsible for ending Boucher’s career. He was only doing his job, which is to confound and befuddle batsmen. Funny, but ironically, Tahir was one of the few world-class spinners Boucher has had the opportunity to keep to, as his low stumping ratio will suggest. Any sort of visual injury is serious enough to end a career, but it is another wise decision to put health first ahead of prolonging what has been a glittering sojourn, which will, in all likelihood, not be repeated anytime soon.

It will take a brave man to bet on Boucher’s record of 999 dismissals (1 000 if you add Dwayne Bravo’s wicket on that notorious road of a wicket that is the Antigua recreation ground). It is not because of the amount of Test cricket that is played, it is how the role of the wicketkeeper has evolved since Adam Gilchrist’s rapier blade forever changed how the world viewed its stumpers.

Boucher belonged to the old school and such was the dynamic of the South African team throughout his career, it was difficult to envisage the team without him. The strengths and weaknesses stretching from Gary Kirsten’s partnership with Andrew Hudson and all-rounder packed batting line-ups catered sweetly for Boucher’s punchy cameos, which delivered his country from embarrassment and strife altogether.

The focus has now shifted to wicketkeepers who are more adept with the bat, than dedicating themselves to cricket’s form of fetching. Authentic stumpers, like rhinos, are a fading species and with the evolution of the game, it is hard to see teams accommodating specialist wicketkeepers. Sri Lanka and Pakistan still lead the way, with Prasanna Jayawardene and Adnan Akmal focusing on their specialities while letting the batsmen lead the way. Jayawardene, in particular, is no slouch with the bat, as his four Test centuries would testify. Unlike Matthew Wade, Matt Prior and MS Dhoni, who are more accomplished batsmen than they are glovemen, it is his work with the spinners that keeps him in the team.

Lions’ wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile is now the heir apparent to don Boucher’s massive gloves, and it was a mistake from the Proteas’ thinktank to leave Tsolekile behind when embarking on such an important tour. AB de Villiers can walk into any side on the strength of his wicketkeeping skills, but such is the importance of his batting contributions, it would be unfair to saddle him with the added burden of the gloves, especially in England with the moving Duke ball. He will have to man the fort at The Oval, but plenty of intellectual capital has vanished with Boucher, and that cannot be easily replaced.

Fifteen years and 147 Tests later, the end of the road has been reached. Like his predecessor, David “Swinger” Richardson, the career was terminated on the road and not at his beloved St George’s Park. Buffalo Park has only ever hosted one Test, and is unlikely to host a Test match anytime soon. What started on the road in a nondescript November day in Sheikhupura in 1997, has not ended in a fiery yorker aimed at his toes or having to fend off a bouncer. I am sure it is not the way he wanted to end his tenure, but, unfortunately, sport does not always tend to dole out fairy tales, even to the most deserving. Boucher has been an asset to South African cricket, and he will be sorely missed.

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