Why the Proteas need Mark Boucher

2010-02-20 00:00

ONE debate that has surely been put to rest during the Kolkata Test is whether AB de Villiers should take over from Mark Boucher as South Africa’s wicketkeeper.

Boucher’s absence because of a back injury has been a critical factor in what, at the time of writing, has been a sub-standard South African performance in the second Test against India.

Mind you, if Boucher had played, one wonders whether Alviro Petersen would have had the opportunity to make a century on his Test debut. I would like to think that the tour selectors would finally have decided that Ashwell Prince, a reluctant opener, should make way for someone eager and able to take the job.

Early in his career De Villiers was good enough behind the stumps to be selected as wicketkeeper for the second and third Tests of his career, against England in 2004/05, during that curious period when the selectors dropped Boucher, picking Thami Tsolekile for three Tests, then turning to De Villiers before returning to the man who now holds the world record for Test dismissals.

Back then AB told anyone who would listen that he loved keeping wicket and always kept his gloves in his cricket bag.

Since then much has changed.

In the first place, De Villiers has become a major batsman who has expressed the ambition to be the best in the world — too good, arguably, to have the additional burden of taking on another crucial role.

On the evidence of Kolkata, his keeping skills have become rusty. He took a good catch early on, but missed a simple stumping chance when Virender Sehwag was far down the pitch. Overall, he did not inspire the confidence that one takes for granted when Boucher is playing.

Some commentators expressed surprise that South Africa did not fly a specialist gloveman to India once Boucher became a doubtful starter. Who, though, would that have been?

Heino Kuhn was blooded in a Pro20 international this season, but has not convinced all critics that he is of Test class. Tsolekile spent a spell in the wilderness but has had a good season for the Lions, averaging 70,71 with the bat in the SuperSport Series and making 31 dismissals in eight matches. He is only 29, so might have been too young when he first played for South Africa without being overly impressive.

The bottom line is that Boucher, at 33, is playing as well as he has ever done. He has worked hard on his fitness, is keeping superbly and has had an excellent season with the bat.

Boucher also brings sense and steel to the South African effort. He might have stemmed the collapse that undermined the efforts of Petersen and Hashim Amla on day one and he surely would have brought more order to a sloppy effort by the Proteas in the field.

Unless Boucher himself loses motivation, there is no reason why he should not play for at least another two or three years.

* Colin Bryden is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times and current editor of the Mutual & Federal South African Cricket Annual.

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