Boucher: The man for a crisis

Mark Boucher (File)
Mark Boucher (File)
Michael Owen-Smith

From a South African point of view the Castle Test series between the Proteas and England was all about experience.

Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher have between them played more than 340 Test matches. This is approximately 100 caps more than the rest of the squad put together for the final Test at the Wanderers.

Not surprisingly they dominate the applicable statistics. The trio were responsible for four centuries and five half-centuries and they all averaged over 50 – Smith, in fact, averaged more than 60.

Yet they are the tall trees that catch the most wind. Boucher’s head has been on the block for some time now if his critics are to be believed and Smith and Kallis have not been short of critics either. It is inevitable when you play the game at the top level for a decade or longer.

Being able to keep your eye on the ball and not be distracted by what is essentially a sideshow is one of the hallmarks of being an international sportsman. Another, according to the late and great Malcolm Marshall of the West Indies is longevity – maintaining a standard of excellence over an extended period of time.

The trio have all achieved that standard of excellence as Boucher reminded us all again at the weekend.

His innings of 95 at the Wanderers ensured a substantial first innings lead and made sure that there was not to be a third great escape for England in the same series.

“A lead of 150 would be nice,” he mused as he waited his turn to bat. “Then we will be able to dictate the game even if they get a big partnership going.”

Those who know Boucher well will recognise that those words were more a statement of intent than speculation on what might happen in an ideal cricketing world. Indeed, when the chips are down, there are few people who can match Boucher for the ability to put his hand up.

He returned to the dressing room having fallen five runs short of a century that even the Barmy Army was willing him to get. His thoughts afterwards were just as illuminating as they had been before hand about his character. “It wasn’t the best innings I have played but I was pleased because it was a very meaningful one.”

It was certainly right up there with his best efforts (of which there are many).

Think of the following:

Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, 1999, when he scored his second century as a night watchman to help get the Proteas out of jail after they had been forced to follow on. The main plaudits went correctly to Gary Kirsten for his feat in equalling Daryll Cullinan’s then SA record score of 274. But, without Boucher at his side for much of the way, there would have been no escape.

Mumbai, 2000, when 163 can be a lot of runs to make in the final innings of a Test match on the sub-continent. At 128/6 the situation was hardly rosy when he came to join his great friend, Kallis at the crease. In what seemed like no time he clubbed 29 (6 fours) of the 35 required and the Proteas had a famous victory that set up their only series win in India.

Wanderers, 2006, when he scored the winning runs in the 438 game in exactly the situation in which the Proteas had fallen short so many times before: winning the big final and having to set a world record to get there.

Edgbaston, 2008, where he scored 40 in both innings, the second time not out, to enable the Proteas to score the more than 100 runs still needed with only the tail left to bat to clinch the Test series.

Sydney, 2009, where he made 89 in the first innings and might have got the Proteas safely to a draw in the second but for a leg before wicket decision that would almost certainly have been changed had the referral system been in place.

Now, Wanderers, 2010.

And it is not as if he has not been contributing in other areas as well. He is on the brink of the unique double of 5 000 Test runs and 500 wicketkeeping dismissals. There is nobody else in the world who has the remotest chance of matching it for the next decade at least.

Whatever the critics and the all demanding fans say, his place in the annals of the game world-wide is assured.

And those who are starting out on their careers and want some advice on how to handle the game’s external issues can learn a lot from this model answer he gave at his fourth day press conference when asked how the criticism had affected him. Did he use it as a motivating tool?

“I don’t play cricket for my critics,” he commented. “Critics are always going to be there no matter where you are or who you are. They are always going to be there and they have criticised a guy like Jacques Kallis as well which is pretty strange....

“For me I have always tried to use every criticism I get and take the positives out of it. If the stuff really gets to me, I try to use it as motivation for myself. If guys are criticising you, then you are not doing your job properly. I am not going to say that I have silenced my critics. They are always going to be there. You have to make sure you perform every day.”

And that is exactly what he has been doing for the Proteas... for the last 13 years, in fact, ever since he made his debut in Pakistan in 1997.

Michael Owen-Smith is the Proteas' media officer

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