SA in West Indies

SA 'keeping stays unresolved

2010-06-03 10:42
Mark Boucher (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – It’s been a funny old one-day international series thus far for South Africa’s long-serving wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

Or should that read: non-series?

A feature of the Proteas’ 4-0 lead against West Indies, with one to play to attempt the clean sweep in Port of Spain on Thursday, has been Boucher’s ongoing marginalisation in favour of AB de Villiers as glove-man.

Instead, and to his credit, the 33-year-old has been busying himself largely in a coaching role, it seems, tutoring his successor – although that word is used advisedly at this stage – in the many facets of the specialist trade.

And there is a treasure trove of knowledge that Boucher can share: he has made no fewer than 447 appearances for his country across the three codes, including a whopping 291 ODIs.

There is little doubt, I think, that when the lengthy Caribbean trip advances into Test mode, Boucher will regain his rightful spot behind the stumps, where he is a near-faultless presence and also stable occupier of the No 7 batting position.

Let’s give short shrift at this point to those who are all too quick to dish out baseless “has-been” labels to seasoned campaigners like Boucher and others: the Warriors man had an exemplary Test summer in 2009/10 both with gloves and bat, earning a share of man-of-the-series with Graeme Swann from the gripping 1-1 slug-out with England.

But in one-day cricket, of course, the Proteas have been doing some timely experimentation of late, partly but not exclusively sparked by their under-achievement at the ICC World Twenty20.

With a 50-overs World Cup not very far away, it has been a wholly justifiable exercise, and use of De Villiers as ODI wicketkeeper -- thus freeing up another spot for a player who might strengthen the batting or bowling, or both -- has been just one pincer to the plan.

At face value, it seems to be “working” in the West Indies. Certainly, in one key sense … namely the impressive proof we have had that De Villiers can keep wicket in this physically demanding arena and it not have a detrimental effect on his batting.

Indeed, the Titans favourite and Hashim Amla, among a mostly smooth-firing top four, have been the leading lights in run-scoring terms, with the former averaging 90 and the latter 89 as things stand.

But we need to scratch a little deeper beneath the surface.

Fine West Indian commentators like Tony Cozier and Ian Bishop – usefully neutral when it comes to purely South African selection issues, of course – remain fairly nonplussed about the absence of Boucher.

Or more specifically, perhaps, they question the deployment of De Villiers as ‘keeper when he is considered such a luminary in-fielder. In a nutshell, they feel South Africa “lose something” in the field when he is committed to wearing the gloves.

There appears to be consensus, too, that De Villiers is good standing back, as you might expect of so nimble and athletic a cricketer, but not as convincing standing up to the slower bowlers.

My own view, in addition, is that Boucher’s general tidying up when things get a bit frantic in ODIs – such as when there are run-out attempts and overthrows and the like – remains noticeably superior. (In De Villiers’ defence, that might be expected as he gradually re-learns a duty he mostly hasn’t had for several years.)

But there is another question to consider: are South Africa really ready to surrender Boucher’s “finishing” abilities and wily experience as an ODI batsman?

It is true that he has tended to underperform slightly in recent years, especially when given the No 6 responsibility in the order.

But in his absence, the Proteas’ batting from No 5 downward has been well less than convincing in this series, despite the 4-0 advantage.

Generally, South Africa have battled to retain rollicking momentum when offered a decent platform (that’s been often) by the upper-order, and the jury is out on whether, say, Johan Botha is suited to batting as high as No 7.

There are no special signs from afar that it will happen, but I would certainly not be averse to old-stager Boucher getting a belated game in the dead-rubber fifth ODI in Trinidad.

We do know he would hardly let the side down.

And what’s wrong with having a “pleasant problem” in the wicket-keeping department, anyway?

Read more on:    mark boucher  |  ab de villiers  |  rob houwing

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