South African cricket July 14, 2012

A commoner behind the stumps

Soham Sarkhel
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 us with a feeling of an unexplained gloom

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 clichés 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.