July 14, 2012

South African cricket

A commoner behind the stumps

Soham Sarkhel
Mark Boucher trains during South Africa's practice session, Centurion, October 17, 2011
Mark Boucher contributed every time; it is just that he was never noticed.  © Getty Images
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I won't talk about Mark Boucher's childhood, his records or what he used to eat when he was a 12 year old--an ESPNcricinfo check is enough for that. To say that 'words cannot do justice to Mark Verdon* Boucher' would be an insult, firstly to the endless number of writers who use the phrase continuously for any celebrity piece and secondly to Boucher himself. The reason for me saying that is primarily because he was not that brilliant a player for whom words would fall short; he was no Viv Richards, he was no Jacques Kallis, he was simply Mark Boucher; yet the announcement of his retirement has somewhere left a space within us, a feeling of an unexplained gloom; maybe it was because he touched a chord with us -- the basic chord of human survival and while at it showing how to bring out the best possible results.

Deep down, a lot of us connected with Boucher not only because of his selfless attitude but also because of the fact that he epitomised a commoner in every possible manner. He was not a prodigy, yet he achieved a lot with his practice, perseverance, will, dedication and most importantly hard work. He knitted them all in a strenuous manner and gave us a hope that even if we are mundane and unattractive in our mannerisms, our efforts may lead us to our greatest glories. And that indeed was the beauty of Boucher; he didn't fit into the sporting clich├ęs of amazing players, yet somewhere he had an identity of his own.

In his first tour to England, he faced criticism because of his inability to keep his body in line with the swinging deliveries. But 15 years down the line, with 998 international wicketkeeping dismissals, he has done enough to answer those critics. Not even an ardent cricket fan would pay to watch Boucher play and do 540 squats in a day, but if ever a situation came of South Africa needing to play out the last 10 overs of the day with four wickets in hand, Boucher would be everyone's safe bet.

When he came in, the game still used to have a specialist keeper who could bat. But soon, with the emergence of Adam Gilchrist, the scenario changed to exactly the opposite and even though Boucher was not in the same mould as Gilchrist, he never had a prolonged poor patch with his bat to get the axe. Here and there, he would chip in with his 30s and 40s.

In his quintessential manner, Boucher was present each and every time anything significant happened in the South African cricketing history. After Hansie Cronje was banned, he was one of the few 'seniors' to guide the South Africa team amid the dark times and later, a young captain in Graeme Smith. He was there during South Africa's heartbreaking loss in the 1999 World Cup; he was on strike during their elimination in the 2003 edition; he was the man scoring the winning runs off the penultimate ball in the epic Johannesburg run chase against Australia. He was there every time, he contributed every time; it is just that we never noticed him in that manner.

He was a character that cricket needed and it is because of players like him that the game manages to carry forward its purity and integrity. Just in the manner Boucher lived his career, all the glories that would have most definitely brought him to the spotlight never eventually happened for him. If he had played the England Test series, he would have achieved his 150th Test cap (that too at the Lord's); playing through the series also would have most definitely made him the first wicketkeeper to have 1000 international dismissals.

But then all this was not supposed to happen. Boucher was never destined for such greatness, even at the end of his career, he radiated the feeling that he was after all a commoner like us and that everything in life need not be perfect. He came, he saw but he never conquered. He only achieved and that is what separated Boucher from the rest.

*July 15, 201, 1115 GMT: The article incorrectly mentioned Mark Boucher's middle name as Devon. This has been corrected.

Keywords: Tributes

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Tom on (July 17, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

I think the author is trying to draw attention to the unpretentious and perhaps unglamourous manner in which Boucher approached the game. His career was doubtless overshadowed by those of his contemporaries - players like Kallis, Steyn, Donald, Smith, Pollock, Ntini et al. The author's mistake, however, is to suggest that flamboyance and ostentation are essential indicators of a cricketer's 'greatness'. In particular, wicketkeepers cannot be evaluated according to those criteria. A good gloveman should be unobtrusive and consistent. His role does not lend itself to virtuoso game-changing performances; nor does it provide scope for the easy assessment of statistical excellence. Boucher's unflashiness is no good reason to underestimate his talent.

Posted by Vatsa on (July 15, 2012, 12:45 GMT)

Boucher through his sheer committment and never say die attitude connected with cricket fans all over the world. It was a shock when he was dropped in 2004-05 for Tsolekile and again for the last World Cup. He was very aggressive on the field, but it was never a dirty SAF image unlike a lot of the Aussies who were similar in attitude but got a dirty streak to their on field behaviour. Will be missed by fans.

Posted by Anonymous on (July 15, 2012, 12:30 GMT)

I'm not sure how to interpret this article. It's complimentary on one hand and derogatory on the other. I for one think Mark Boucher is incredibly talented and not your average or common keeper. Yes he had to work hard, but don't all top sportsmen / women? Bouchy pulled us out of some serious dwang time after time after time, and in my view that requires some exceptional talent!

Posted by Vinod Iyer on (July 15, 2012, 12:06 GMT)

"Deep down, a lot of us connected with Boucher not only because of his selfless attitude but also because of the fact that he epitomised a commoner in every possible manner"- u said it-bro...Bouch was always a scrapper, an unfashionable lower order bat who could score that vital 30-40 that put a total beyond reach, his keeping was excellent, steady more than spectacular, he gave the essence of being a thorough team man and he always looked busy but looked like he enjoyed his trade, always went about his business with minimal of fuss, hype and hoopla. Farewell, to a true proud protean, hope hisoperation goes well...from your indian fan :)

Posted by Slick on (July 15, 2012, 11:50 GMT)

This is a ridiculously poor article. Firstly his middle name is 'Verdon' not Devon. Secondly he had 999 international wicket-keeping dismissals not 998 as mentioned above. Thirdly, Boucher was certainly a prodigy and destined for greatness after a remarkably mature start to his international career at the age of 20 replacing a steadfast incumbent in Dave Richardson. Compare Wade's tentative first steps in international colours - and his start gets even better. Calling him a commoner is downright insulting. What's Kallis then, a serf? Can only Indian players be royalty?

Posted by Shailesh Karnik on (July 15, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

Mark was and is a true champion. So Sad that he had the injury. Hope he gets well soon.

Posted by swapnendu das on (July 15, 2012, 10:49 GMT)

didnot like the last part he definitely conquered in my opinion the best gloveman of our era

Posted by avinash on (July 15, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

He was indeed incredible ! His records speaks for itself. Though he didn't at the top of the order, he still managed to get 30's and 40's here n there.

Posted by Andy on (July 15, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

Could not have described the man and his achievments any better than this, GOOD LUCK Bouchie you have done us proud. GOD BLESS YOU

Posted by Kelly on (July 15, 2012, 9:41 GMT)

Boucher isn't Kallis. He isn't Richards, he isn't Tendulkar, he isn't a player that could set a cricketing stage alight. However - he is not ordinary nor is he common. What sets him apart is his mentality. Not once have I witnessed him step onto a cricket field and not give it his all. Be it in a practice match or in the Test arena - he had the utmost respect for the game. In a world where cricketing mercenaries are prevalent and people would far rather earn millions playing a bit of hit-and-giggle, that is something to be admired. He truly took pride in playing for his country and because of that, as a South African, I will hold him in as high regard as I do any great cricketer. For his leadership, his tenacity, his competitiveness and his courage - Mark Verdon Boucher is a legend.

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