Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Proteas captain Graeme Smith has spiritedly defended wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, arguably the most tenuous link in the Test team’s armoury at present.
Shortly after completing a satisfying, series-clinching 10-wicket win in the final Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands on Friday, the inevitable question came up at the press conference: “Is Boucher becoming a problem?”
The veteran gloveman has been less than his traditional model of consistency behind the stumps this summer, only further firing up his critics who believe that he also doesn’t offer enough major -- and regular -- runs at No 7, ahead of a vulnerable South African tail.
But Smith was not about to dismiss the credentials of the 144-cap team-mate with whom he has shared many triumphs and tribulations for almost a decade.
“I don’t think so at all. I think that catch (his elementary mistake in giving Lankan opener Lahiru Thirimanne a life off Morne Morkel’s bowling in the second innings) was the first I’ve seen him drop from 10 or 15 metres back ... I can’t even remember him dropping another one.
“He took (eight) catches in Pretoria and everyone was raving, you know ... so I think he’s secure. As a gloveman he’s been excellent for us. Yes, he’s put one or two chances down now, but overall in the time I’ve been with him his consistency has only been excellent.
“He’s ultra-reliable, and when you’re like that maybe a miss is made a big thing of.”
Alongside Smith, player-of-the-match Jacques Kallis nodded sagely, although you wouldn’t expect anything but, of course, from the 35-year-old Boucher’s known close friend.
Still, the captain made a pertinent point when he said Boucher’s rich experience would come in extremely useful in England next year, where the Proteas tackle the current world No 1-ranked side and the demands on wicketkeepers are near-unique given the very late movement of the ball through the air at times.
“Having a really good ‘keeper is going to be the key factor there.”
What may be keeping Boucher safe for the time being, of course, is that the selectors are yet to indicate exactly who they consider worth grooming to fill Boucher’s illustrious gloves one day – that process ought to be tackled with greater urgency now.
In terms of the emphatic Newlands win, Smith was clearly chuffed with his team’s showing in a game where his captaincy could barely be faulted, even if he missed out personally on the first-knock bonanza.
“I think this was our best bowling performance of the summer; we bowled well as a unit. Yesterday (Thursday) in particular each guy bowled really well in his spells to create pressure ... it wasn’t just one player bowling outstandingly to get six or seven wickets.
“All three seamers (used in the Lankan first innings) and Imran (Tahir) were very good in partnerships ... there’s a lot to build on from that performance. Hopefully Durban (the second-Test upset defeat) was a big wake-up call for the guys over the standards we need to produce as a team.
“The way we won here was important: good partnerships also with the bat and a big total posted. Everything we’ve been speaking about over the summer came on strong.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing