Mark Boucher.....the first keeper in Test history to pouch 500 catches © Getty Images
Mark Boucher…..the first keeper in Test history to pouch 500 catches © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The Australia-South Africa Test series has produced some fantastic cricket that would be etched in the memory of cricket lovers for years to come. In the midst of all the frenzy, there is one man who has gone about his business with minimal fuss and has reached a landmark no other cricketer has. Mark Verdon Boucher, the gutsy gloveman from South Africa, became the first man in the history of Test cricket to snap 500 catches. The dramatic proceedings of the Cape Town Test overshadowed the achievement of the South African wicket-keeper who has served his country for years.

 

The first thing that strikes you about Boucher isn’t so much his cricketing ability but his attitude. Whenever he walks out to keep wickets or even bat, there is some sense of positivity around him. Those positive vibes can be interpreted as the acceptance of a challenge and time and again we have seen him deliver performances that have symbolised this spirit. That attitude has helped him overcome some of his limitations and blossom into a fantastic cricketer who has left his mark on the international scene.

 

Boucher has never shied away from a fight. We have seen him sledge the batsmen from behind the stumps on a few occasions. Even when bowlers have had a word with him, he hasn’t limited himself to answer with the bat. However, these instances haven’t taken sheen off his stature as his body language commands respect.

 

As a wicket-keeper, Boucher has come a long way from his initial struggle to blossom into one of the best stumpers in modern times. South Africa have generally had a pace dominated attack which has comprised some of the finest fast bowlers in recent years such Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, to name a few.

 

Keeping against bowlers of such quality is never easy as some of them are genuine quicks. Boucher has pulled off quite a few blinders with his sharp reflexes. Many a times, he has dived and converted half-chances. And like all great players, he made them look simple.

 

Boucher the batsman has always contributed crucial knocks down the order. In one-day games, he has blazed his way with cameos to change the game in a flash. He is a calming influence in if things are amiss in the middle.

 

He is a gritty customer in Test matches who puts a high price on his wicket. An average of 30.55 in Tests and 28.57 in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) highlights his value as a more than a useful lower-order batsman. At that position a batsman’s contribution can make a difference between the two sides and he has carried those duties brilliantly.

 

Throughout his career, Boucher has drawn comparisons with Adam Gilchrist, the other great wicket-keeper of this era. When Gilchrist retired from Test cricket in 2008, he had just sneaked past the South African in the most dismissals list. However, Boucher regained the top spot and is miles ahead of his current competitors. In ODI, Boucher has some distance to cover before beating Gilchrist’s record of 474 dismissals.

 

If one actually compares the two players, Gilchrist is miles ahead on the batting front. He carved his own niche as an attacking batsman and played some thrilling knocks as an opener in ODIs and as a number seven in Tests. Boucher may have played quite a few crucial knocks, but Gilchrist’s utility as batsman was far greater. In ODIs as an opener, Gilchrist had more time in the middle and in Tests – down at No 7 – he had the ability to score hundreds. Gilchrist’s 17 Test tons compared to Boucher’s five speaks a lot of the Australian’s superior batting talent.

 

Behind the stumps, it isn’t easy to decide who the better of the two. Both have done exceptionally well over the years and have succeeded in their endeavors on their own terms. They have kept wickets to some of the best bowlers around and have done a brilliant job in converting quite a few half chances into positive results. Gilchrist has kept to a bowler like Shane Warne which may put him slightly ahead of Boucher, but the South African’s long career span speaks volumes of his fitness levels. For a ‘keeper to play in 141 Tests is an achievement as it is one of the most stressful jobs on the cricket field.

 

Let us have a look at the stats of the top wicket-keepers in Test cricket:

 

Player

M

Ct

St

Total

Dismissals per match

Mark Boucher

141*

503

22

525

3.72

Adam Gilchrist

96

379

37

416

4.33

Ian Healy

119

366

29

395

3.31

Rodney Marsh

96

343

12

355

3.69

Jeff Dujon

81

265

5

270

3.33

 

*includes the ongoing Test between Australia and South Africa at Johannesburg.

 

From the table, we can make quite a few inferences. Firstly, Gilchrist is way ahead when you look at his dismissal average per match. And that has a lot to do with the kind of bowling attack Australia possessed during his career. His 37 stumpings is mainly due to the presence of the likes of Warne and Stuart MacGill, whereas Boucher lags behind in the stumping department because he hasn’t had the best spinners in his side. However, he is marginally ahead when compared to the other greats in this table and his longevity makes him stand out.

 

As I said in one of my previous articles on Mahendra Singh Dhoni, stats is not the best way to go about judging a ‘keeper’s worth. The above table has some of the finest players the world has seen behind the stumps. Each player has had to play a different role for his side and create their own identity. Boucher has done that successfully and although he would be overshadowed by Gilchrist in some respects, he would stand out as the ultimate competitor who made the most off all his chances.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)