When someone retires, people are generally supposed to focus on that person’s attributes and this has been particularly true for Mark Boucher after his career was ended by a horrendous incident where a bail cut his eyeball. However, here at King Cricket we don’t have all that much lyrical waxation for Mark.
It’s not that we don’t like him or don’t rate him, because we do. It’s just that from our perspective his career has been characterised by low-key solidity and visible effort. We found him worthy and committed, but not especially eye-catching at any one moment.
We remember him best for the lesson he taught us about English wicketkeepers. His first tour to England was in 1998 and his wicketkeeping was bloody awful. It occurred to us afterwards that if he’d had to play half his matches in England, he’d have been dropped very early on in his career. This is a man who ended up with 999 international dismissals, so maybe we judge English wicketkeepers too harshly in what are trying conditions.
As a batsman, he was reasonable, but with the priceless quality of always appearing to be doing his absolute best. Having people like that in the opposition gives a match integrity and status. That is vital for spectators, so thanks for that Mark, and we do hope you recover okay.
That’s the big news today. Cricinfo have revealed that 35-year-old Mark Boucher is thinking about maybe stopping playing. Possibly even fairly soon.
“I would like to go England and then start a process of trying to get another keeper involved.”
He didn’t even include a ‘maybe’.
“After England I will probably look at my career and my retirement.”
But he did use a ‘probably’.
The good news for England is that Boucher seems to be planning on going out on a low.
“If it’s my time to go then it’s my time to go. If I’m not performing then I’m not performing.”
The ball has swung in this match. There has been seam movement, some bounce and good turn. On top of that, South Africa need to win this game. Mark Boucher and Graeme Smith have been the standout batsmen. This is not surprising.
Most players play worse in these situations. A very small number play better. Boucher and Smith almost always play better when their team need them to and with every Test cap they’ve earned, this has become more and more the case.
How would we fare in the same position? Well, we sometimes freak out watching the highlights of matches we know England have won, put it that way.
When England took the fourth wicket of what seemed like a mesmerisingly unstrenuous dismantling of the South African batting line-up, we wondered where the real South Africa were. Mark Boucher at six? Where was the breathtaking conservatism for which South African cricket is so renowned?
Think back to the glory days of Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall at eight, nine and ten. The South Africa of old didn’t let the fact that two of those three were utterly mediocre with the ball stop them. Bolster the lower order, just in case – that was the way.
Hopefully they’ve learnt their lesson and dynamism and risk-taking can be put aside once more in favour of the ‘why risk it?’ tactic.
Ian Healy, Australia’s wicketkeeper before Adam Gilchrist, had 395 victims in 119 Tests. Mark Boucher’s just gone past him in his 103rd Test. Quite impressive really.
There are fewer draws these days and a couple of poorer teams, which goes some way towards explaining how Boucher managed to reach this point quicker than Healy, a superior keeper. But let’s not nitpick.
When England followers are dredging up the interminable ‘best wicketkeeper’ debate for the nth time, we often think of Mark Boucher’s early days. As we remember it, he really wasn’t that good.
Maybe it was because when we first saw him, he was playing in England, where many keepers struggle with swing. Whereas in other countries the ball will tend to swing quite predictably (if at all), in England’s damp atmosphere, it can go through several permutations of in-, out-, up- and down- swing after the ball pitches. Kamran Akmal looked all at sea a couple of years ago and even Adam Gilchrist dropped a whole host of chances in the 2005 Ashes.
It goes to show what can be achieved though, because Boucher’s standard steadily improved, until he reached the point where he wasn’t conceding byes and barely dropped a thing. Now he’s the world record holder.
Not a bad bat, either.