July 14, 2012

South Africa in England, 2012

On to Canterbury after the trials of Taunton

Firdose Moonda
The cathedral in Canterbury, July 13, 2012
The cathedral in Canterbury  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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One week, two injuries and some cricket. And the tour has not even properly started.

The last few days will likely be remembered as ones that abruptly reshaped South African cricket. Mark Boucher has retired. We all knew it was coming. But, it was supposed to come in six weeks' time, when Boucher finished his career at Lord's. The way it actually came was cruel.

Boucher has been playing cricket for as long as I have been a journalist. My fondest memory of him was an interview in February, when he spoke about his decision to retire. Cobras were playing Lions in the final round of the SuperSport Series, a match they had to win to be champions. The Lions put up stubborn resistance and the game ended in a draw, which left the Cobras in second place.

There was disappointment in their change-room but Boucher honoured his agreement nonetheless. On the grass bank at the Wanderers, a beautiful place when empty, he began to chat.

Boucher had a distant look in his eyes when he spoke of how he would get to be with his family over the holidays instead of on a tour. His voice dropped when he spoke about a life after cricket. He was not sure how he would fill it except that he would not do it in the commentary box. There were times when I thought Boucher might cry but he did not. I will never forget how human he was that day.

As part of the nucleus of the South African team for 15 years, Boucher has come across as arrogant and aloof. He was those things sometimes. His thoughtful and gentle sides were hidden because he always fronted up as a fighter.

Between Mohammad Moosajee's sombre diagnosis, and Graeme Smith's solemn statement reading and Jacques Kallis' stony but sincere friendship, South African cricket lost a stalwart. Reporting on the injury, surgery and retirement required care and sensitivity because it was not just about sport. There was a feeling, for both the journalists and the team, that on leaving Taunton we could leave some of those feelings behind. So far, we have

It was raining in Canterbury but the weather cleared sufficiently for both cricket and sightseeing - a tour of the magnificent cathedral. Although not the best time to visit, because large parts of it were closed for graduation, it was still worth it. With organ music playing for the newly degreed, the majestic structures of centuries gone by seemed even more imposing.

Kent's cricket ground is a far less dramatic place but it is special for two of South Africa's pack. Morne Morkel played here in 2007 and it was the first English ground Dale Steyn saw.

Steyn did not play there when he came to England as a 14-year-old on a school tour. It was his first time away from home and he was so excited to sit on an airplane for the first time that he stole the spoon. He had also broken both his wrists while skateboarding before the trip and his father was "furious," that they had spent money sending him on a trip he may not play in. He ended up being able to bowl but "didn't even bother packing batting gear."

Another South African quick Marchant de Lange will remember it as the place his first England tour ended. De Lange became the second player to withdraw from the tour, because a persistent lower back injury. It cannot be compared to Boucher's career-ending blow but it is still a worry. His jokes will be missed, such as the one about learning more about Bollywood because of his IPL franchise. De Lange might not have played on this tour at all unless there was an injury to one of the other fast bowlers, and South Africa don't need any more of those.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Alan Montgomery on (July 14, 2012, 19:21 GMT)

From a comfortable armchair in a coastal SA city I am heartened to see that our players are learning fast and are keen to do well. The Oval should be an exciting affair.Hope the wet summer does not interfere.

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