Mark Boucher, born December 3, 1976, symbolised grit and never-say-die attitude in a long international career. In this day and age where the international calendar is packed with cricketing assignments, Boucher tirelessly served his country for 15 years for a job that demands supreme fitness. A freakish eye injury brought a halt to his fabulous career in July this year.
Boucher epitomised a winner’s attitude. He never backed away from a fight and faced adversity with remarkable fight – mindset that helped him surmount odds and limitations to become the most successful stumper in the history of the game.
Boucher had a bit of a tough time in his early days, but came a long way since then. South Africa always had a fantastic pace attack, and to keep wickets to them for 15 years is a demanding job. One that Boucher has done without much problems.
The South Africans have fielded pacemen such as Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to name a few. Always in the firing line, Boucher did a remarkable job in handling such a quality attack and adding to their wickets tally. With all the hard yards behind him, he would often pull off stunners – which converted half chances to help the fiery attack celebrate its hard work.
In 15 years, Boucher has played 147 Tests, 295 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and 25 T20 internationals – 467 games in all. Being a ‘keeper, the frequent sit-ups, crouches, changing ends, collecting deliveries etc. would have been extremely strenuous. The magnitude of difficulty magnifies when one considers the quality of the attack he has kept to. Through all that he has stacked 999 international victims behind the stumps (it goes up to 1000 if one counts his only Test wicket). All this reflects a phenomenal fitness level and an unshakable mind.
In this modern era, wicket-keeper’s are expected to contribute with the bat as that adds more depth to a side. While Boucher did a fantastic lower down the order – scripting knocks that helped South Africa finish games or steered the ship through troubled waters, the other more spectacular keeper batsmen often stole his thunder. Throughout his career, Boucher competed with the great Australian Adam Gilchrist. The race was almost neck and neck in Test cricket (for dismissals), but the ultimate record rests with Boucher.
Undoubtedly Gilchrist was an infinitely superior batsman, a fact established by his 17 Tests hundreds compared to Boucher’s five. However, in ODIs, Gilchrist opened the batting even as Boucher’s role was limited to the lower order. On the keeping front, Gilchrist stood up to a bowler of the calibre of Shane Warne in a dominant Aussie attack. For a major part of his career, Boucher had to contend with seamers as no spinner established himself in the South African squad in the long run.
Comparisons are often unfair and many a captain would vouch for the fact that a player like Boucher is invaluable in the set-up. A player like him has the ability to motivate the others with his performance and positive body-language. One needs that dependable figure lower down the order with the bat and a chirpy stumper to boost the morale of the side. His standing in the South African dressing room was evident when he had to call it a day in unfortunate circumstances.
On the verge of history, fate played a cruel move when Boucher injured his eye in a tour game of the England sojourn in July this year. It was a freakish incident as the ball clipped the bail – which flew on to his eye – damaging it. Boucher had announced that the three Tests against England would have been his last. He had the chance of completing 150 Tests, but was left an agonising three short. That horrific injury ended a fantastic career and robbed him of putting the cherry on top of the cake.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)