Boucher: Rallying point for SA

2012-07-10 10:59
Mark Boucher (File)
Cape Town – Dr Mohammed Moosajee, the Proteas’ team manager who was apparently up all night in support of the stricken wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, offered the necessary perspective in saying: “Our concern at the moment is for Mark Boucher the patient, not the player.”

Clearly his freak, lacerated-eyeball injury is that serious ... and South Africans from beyond just the cricketing community have united in their fervent wish that the 35-year-old – young in all but his specific professional terms, of course – not surrender the sight in an eye.

Just the latest nice touch in the stream of well-wishing has come in a tweet on Tuesday from Matt Prior (@MattPrior13), the South African-born gloveman who would have been Boucher’s direct rival in the looming Test series: “Just seen the news about @markb46. Very sad he’s missing the series and hope he makes a full and speedy recovery. Go well mate #keepersunion.”

Yet preparation inevitably goes on for the major clash – there are now only nine days to the first Test at The Oval – and the blunt fact remains that the tourists have to get their re-arranged ducks in a row for it as quickly as possible.

He would have preferred the circumstances to be well different, of course, but JP Duminy, a little indirectly, seems almost certainly the beneficiary of Boucher’s sickening ill fortune.

The left-handed Cape Cobras batsman and occasional off-spinner must be overwhelming favourite, as first reserve batsman, to crack the nod for the Test XI in London now, with AB de Villiers – frontline strokeplayer but also the designated second ‘keeper for this venture – assuming responsibility behind the stumps.

It is not De Villiers’s ideal gig, as he prefers not to keep wicket in Tests given the strain it may put on his sometimes troublesome back, but you can be sure he will respond willingly and fulsomely given the crisis nature of this probable calling.

South Africa will presumably waste little time in adding in-form SA ‘A’ gloveman Thami Tsolekile to the broader squad, but are highly unlikely to pitch him straight back into Test combat, of which he has some previous experience.

Even when Boucher was still in the frame, concern existed – and no doubt still does in many circles – about the superiority on paper of England’s batting from No 7 downward, where they can boast such accomplished individuals as Prior, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann.

So the Proteas adding Duminy to their top seven, perhaps in that very spot, with De Villiers simply shouldering an additional, taxing burden (at least for the first encounter at a venue where South Africa have a poor record and may go in rusty) appears very much the correct way to go.

And as much as their hearts and minds will be considerably preoccupied by concerns for veteran Boucher’s wellbeing, the Proteas’ brains trust would be amiss not to engage his misfortune as some sort of galvanising, rallying device for the team.

You can bet your last dollar, you see, that the eternal, admirable scrapper who is Boucher would not want it any other way.

When he is suitably ready to do so, it is difficult to envisage the 147-Test stalwart (the entirely fitting environment of Lord’s had been earmarked for his 150th appearance) not spiritedly urging his long-time team-mates to put one over a traditional foe in their own stomping ground once more.

It must not escape attention, remember, how vitally Boucher contributed to the 2-1 success in 2008, when South Africa, in the decisive third of four Tests at Edgbaston, had seemed odds-on during their second innings to lose instead of suddenly go an unassailable 2-0 up.

The Proteas, set a target of 281 and with Monty Panesar turning the ball near-square, were 171 for five when last recognised batsman Boucher (beneath him only the precarious Messrs Morkel, Harris, Nel and Ntini) took to the crease alongside his captain Graeme Smith.

But in nearly two hours of necessary fortitude, cool-headedness and more than a little daredevil, Smith and Boucher got the Proteas famously over the line, Smith ending on 154 not out and Boucher similarly carrying his bat for an invaluable 45.

Those are precisely the sort of unquantifiable MV Boucher attributes that will be missed in 2012, whatever people may say about his relative modern lack of genuine weight in runs.

They are assets that the remainder of the troops, their thoughts presumably not wholly on the continuing Taunton warm-up fixture on Tuesday, would do well to doggedly disperse amongst each other as the tour reaches its true “business” phase.

Mother Cricket can be as cruel as she has been overwhelmingly kind to someone like Boucher during a stellar 15 years of activity for his country since Test debut in the industrial city of Sheikhupura, Pakistan, in October 1997.

There seems a strong likelihood that he will end his career on the teasing figure of 999 international dismissals across the three codes.

Those are still 999 ticks of astonishing wicketkeeping consistency and greatness, when you consider that they are highly unlikely to be eclipsed (the still-playing Kumar Sangakkara is a long way adrift on 565, and much closer in age to 35 than 34 now) in any of our lifetimes.

It is an extraordinary statistical legacy to leave ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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