July 11, 2011

The men who couldn't replace Boucher

During his 14-year reign as the South African keeper, Boucher has had at least six frontline challengers. Only two remain standing
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During his 14 years in possession of the South Africa wicketkeeper's gloves Mark Boucher has established a personal empire over the berth. No other player has seriously threatened to displace him from the national side; most who tried fell by the wayside, their growth stunted.

Some went away, like Nic Pothas and Kruger van Wyk. Others, like Wendell Bossenger and Ahmed Omar, were let down by the system. A few, like Thami Tsolekile and Morne van Wyk, have stayed and are still plugging away, hoping for a chance to challenge the champion again. The reality is that not one of them has stood out as a likely successor.

Not that Boucher himself felt that way. "It was like being in a bubble that you don't want to burst," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I never took anything for granted, and I knew that to keep my place I had to perform all the time. I never felt that my spot in the side was cemented."

It's that belief in the impermanence of his spot that pushed Boucher to stay above the competition. "I was criticised big time when I started. People thought Nic Pothas should have taken over. I had a good season with the bat then, but I knew my keeping wasn't up to scratch."

In 1997, Pothas was Boucher's only direct competition, and he had the support of many pundits. For five years after that, Pothas stayed in South Africa, but as Boucher got bigger and better and Pothas' opportunities smaller, he packed up. He joined Hampshire in 2002 and qualified for England five years later. By then he was 34, competing with the likes of Matt Prior, Chris Read and Geraint Jones, and his international future had all but disappeared. His county career is coming to its end, but with distinction. He has scored over 800 runs in every one of the eight seasons he has spent at Hampshire, and is currently being rewarded with a benefit year.

As Pothas was on the brink of sailing off, Kruger van Wyk was making his debut. Only a little over five feet, Kruger was the embodiment of dynamite in a small package. He came from the assembly line of adept sportsmen at the Afrikaans Hoer Seunskool (Affies) and was in the same team as AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Jacques Rudolph. "We really created something special during an era at Affies where we were very keen to dominate cricket at schoolboy level, and we had some great players," he said.

Kruger van Wyk was the spirit of Northerns Cricket for seven years, known for his athleticism, effervescence and enthusiasm. "It was my job to be energetic, to be very neat, to be able to make a difference and try and win games with the gloves and the bat when the opportunity presented itself." He was a stylish batsman, a hard worker, and a natural with the gloves. He was picked for South Africa A on several occasions but was never able to make the leap up to the national side. "I knew Boucher was doing very well, and I knew that it would be very hard to get a chance while he was there. It might just be a case of being in the right place at wrong time."

In July 2006, Kruger followed his coach Dave Nosworthy and ex team-mate Johann Myburgh to New Zealand. "I saw a great opportunity for me to be challenged in a new environment, and it was a chance I just couldn't say no to. I wanted to test my skills in different conditions." Kruger admits that while he was playing in South Africa's franchise system, "Boucher was the man for the job" at national level. He couldn't see a way in so he went out to avoid having the door banged shut on him.

Bossenger was not so fortunate. He played his cricket in Kimberley, for Griqualand West, a small team in small place, which made it difficult to get noticed. Despite averaging in the high 30s for most of his first-class career, he was frozen out of professional cricket when the franchise system formed in 2004-05. Griquas merged with Free State to form the Eagles, and Bossenger was not contracted.

"It was hard at the time, but you can't be bitter about it," he said. "I was 27 then and I had to make a decision - am I going to chase this and look for another franchise, or go in another direction?" He chose not to go on the prowl for a place elsewhere. Griquas were then reduced to an amateur side and Bossenger operated as a player-coach. "I felt I had a lot to give and so I tried to mentor people." He currently works as coach of the Griquas side and the CSA colts, and is content with the way things panned out.

Bossenger said he was told by friends that perhaps the reason for his exclusion when the Eagles were formed had something to do with race, and that he lost out on a contract because the franchises felt compelled to sign up a certain number of players of colour. He said that if that was the case, he did not mind. "At that stage transformation was the most important thing in South African cricket, much more important than me getting a franchise contract."

Bossenger's reference to race carries no animosity. Instead it has the understanding of the very real problems South Africa faces, not just in sport. There is a definite and much-needed push, to give opportunities to people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, but the application sometimes goes awry, as Omar claims happened in his case.

"In the old days the keeper was the guy who had to shout and scream a bit behind the stumps. But now he is one of the leaders of the team. He has to have a good cricket brain and be a lot more involved in the game, much like a catcher in baseball"
Morne van Wyk on the changing role of the wicketkeeper

Omar toured with Boucher at the Under-19 level, and was touted as the next best thing to hit Gauteng cricket. He was contracted by the team and played under coach Ray Jennings but was dropped after one first-class game, in which he took three catches. He was brought back into the side in 2003-4, and played sporadically for the next two years, despite being a contracted player.

"I was never given any answers for what was happening," he said. "I wrote letters to the board and the selection panel but every time I questioned what was happening I was told I had an attitude problem. I felt the administration was dishonest at the time and they set me up to fail."

Omar walked away from cricket completely to concentrate on his security business. His tales reek of sourness and were it not for the well-documented racial problems at Gauteng cricket, they would have just come across as complaints from a bitter man.

Gauteng can redeem themselves with Tsolekile, who they rescued from an office job in the Cape to help revive his career. Tsolekile, who is also a national hockey player, came closest to replacing Boucher when he toured India in 2005, when Boucher was dropped from the side. But after three Tests, Tsolekile was deemed not good enough. "I thought I was fully ready at the time, but in hindsight I wasn't. Boucher was the better all-round cricketer," he said.

Tsolekile wanted to work on his batting, but in a formidable Western Province (WP) line-up he was never able to bat higher than seven or eight. "We had guys like Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince in the side, so there was no opportunity to bat higher," he said. He became known as an exciting lower-order player, not a hardworking grinder like Boucher. In 2007 he lost his contract with the Cobras because of "personality problems" with the then-coach, Shukri Conrad. He took up a job in the WP Cricket Association administration department but "at 27, I didn't want to sit in an office".

Gauteng approached him two seasons ago to play for their franchise, the Lions, and he has since moved to Johannesburg, where he has captained the franchise, the South African A side, and excelled with the bat. "If I didn't still have ambition to play for South Africa, I wouldn't be playing for the Lions," he said.

Like Tsolekile, Morne van Wyk is also still playing, and he still believes he has a few years to give to the national team. Having been a part of the World Cup squad, Morne is positive about his chances of playing more regularly for South Africa because of his experience as a top-order batsman. "If you have a keeper who can bat higher up the order, you have the option of playing an extra allrounder or bowler," he said.

Having been a professional cricketer for the last 14 years, Morne said he has been able to evolve with the process of wicketkeeping and so understands its nuances well. "In the old days the keeper was the guy who had to shout and scream a bit behind the stumps. But now he is one of the leaders of the team. He has to have a good cricket brain and be a lot more involved in the game, much like a catcher in baseball."

Currently the person who is able to do that best is still Boucher. "The hunger is still there," he said. "I have been training really hard and I'm the fittest I've ever been. I have not given up on playing for South Africa in all formats."

That should be taken as a warning by those eyeing a berth in the limited-overs formats, like Heino Kuhn, Davy Jacobs and Daryn Smit. They have to knock down the champion before they stand a chance, and as Bossenger put it, "It should be that difficult to play for South Africa."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Robster1 on July 13, 2011, 2:48 GMT

    Or young Chris Cooke from Western Province - he looks a very promising keeper batsman.

  • on July 12, 2011, 17:27 GMT

    AB Devillers... he cld have easily replace.. but AB thought of other way.. wanted to become the best batsman in the world.. so he was away frm keeping.... else.. AB is the best man to t business...

  • KAIRAVA on July 12, 2011, 11:33 GMT

    No mention of Steve Palframan !!

  • on July 12, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    really>>>>>>replacing boucher frm his national side is jst nailin jelly into a tree mns of no use........we havent seen any player of his caliber.....

  • howizzat on July 12, 2011, 6:03 GMT

    @Neo, I feel the search is not enough. Instead of going for tried and tested find an youngster or two on a long term basis. The requirement is for 2017 onwards. Selectors should be visionaries and farsighted. Anyway, C Goutam is being drafted for the Emerging Cricket Tour, down under. Lets see how he will perform.

  • on July 12, 2011, 2:52 GMT

    @sacricketlegend. "We're stuck with Boucher, who has not been bad" WOW! I think you'd better check Boucher's record again. There aren't many wicketkeepers in the history of the game who have achieved what he has.

  • on July 12, 2011, 0:17 GMT

    There was utter chaos in the South African National Side....when sumbody like the standards of Dave Richardson.....retired from International Cricket in 1997......sum thought who has the potential to replace him at that time......when South Africa was the most formidable side in world cricket much like Australia from 1999-2011.......since there was every member in Hansie Cronje's side who has mastery well over every aspects of the game.......be it as a Opening batsman-pair...there was Gary Kirsten & Herscelle Gibbs......a genuine All-rounder Jacques Kallis...a superb-athletic fielder Jonty Rhodes.....a devastating opening bowling duo Shaun Pollock-Allan Donald.....a number-nine batsman with a ODI Century who cud spin the bowl quite effectively-Nicky Boje.....a dependable Middle-Order batsman Darryl Cullinan....the only thing missing in that side was a gud finishing wicketkeeper-batsman.......then there was Mark Boucher......number of ppl thot SA wud wind up like England but it didnt

  • hansie_gill_ on July 11, 2011, 23:27 GMT

    D.JACOBS is the man ,can take the gloves and explode the batting .............otherwise all the joker are the samething

  • on July 11, 2011, 19:31 GMT

    Boucher's record and longevity should have made him an automatic pick for World XI had he not shared time space with Adam Gilchrist. He's an absolute pit bull of a man who is always up for a fight. His keeping has improved over the years. There needs to be a serious talent to challenge his spot. Only if AB DeVilliers choses to, he could be a genuine contender but SA would be loathe to lose their best fielder.

  • on July 11, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    They also had a player called Steve Palframan..I think he played iin the SA team in 1996 World Cup..don't know what happened to him after that as Boucher emerged as the first choice WK after Richardson...

  • Robster1 on July 13, 2011, 2:48 GMT

    Or young Chris Cooke from Western Province - he looks a very promising keeper batsman.

  • on July 12, 2011, 17:27 GMT

    AB Devillers... he cld have easily replace.. but AB thought of other way.. wanted to become the best batsman in the world.. so he was away frm keeping.... else.. AB is the best man to t business...

  • KAIRAVA on July 12, 2011, 11:33 GMT

    No mention of Steve Palframan !!

  • on July 12, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    really>>>>>>replacing boucher frm his national side is jst nailin jelly into a tree mns of no use........we havent seen any player of his caliber.....

  • howizzat on July 12, 2011, 6:03 GMT

    @Neo, I feel the search is not enough. Instead of going for tried and tested find an youngster or two on a long term basis. The requirement is for 2017 onwards. Selectors should be visionaries and farsighted. Anyway, C Goutam is being drafted for the Emerging Cricket Tour, down under. Lets see how he will perform.

  • on July 12, 2011, 2:52 GMT

    @sacricketlegend. "We're stuck with Boucher, who has not been bad" WOW! I think you'd better check Boucher's record again. There aren't many wicketkeepers in the history of the game who have achieved what he has.

  • on July 12, 2011, 0:17 GMT

    There was utter chaos in the South African National Side....when sumbody like the standards of Dave Richardson.....retired from International Cricket in 1997......sum thought who has the potential to replace him at that time......when South Africa was the most formidable side in world cricket much like Australia from 1999-2011.......since there was every member in Hansie Cronje's side who has mastery well over every aspects of the game.......be it as a Opening batsman-pair...there was Gary Kirsten & Herscelle Gibbs......a genuine All-rounder Jacques Kallis...a superb-athletic fielder Jonty Rhodes.....a devastating opening bowling duo Shaun Pollock-Allan Donald.....a number-nine batsman with a ODI Century who cud spin the bowl quite effectively-Nicky Boje.....a dependable Middle-Order batsman Darryl Cullinan....the only thing missing in that side was a gud finishing wicketkeeper-batsman.......then there was Mark Boucher......number of ppl thot SA wud wind up like England but it didnt

  • hansie_gill_ on July 11, 2011, 23:27 GMT

    D.JACOBS is the man ,can take the gloves and explode the batting .............otherwise all the joker are the samething

  • on July 11, 2011, 19:31 GMT

    Boucher's record and longevity should have made him an automatic pick for World XI had he not shared time space with Adam Gilchrist. He's an absolute pit bull of a man who is always up for a fight. His keeping has improved over the years. There needs to be a serious talent to challenge his spot. Only if AB DeVilliers choses to, he could be a genuine contender but SA would be loathe to lose their best fielder.

  • on July 11, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    They also had a player called Steve Palframan..I think he played iin the SA team in 1996 World Cup..don't know what happened to him after that as Boucher emerged as the first choice WK after Richardson...

  • ramanispeaks on July 11, 2011, 16:21 GMT

    @howizzat - Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha HAVE been selected based on their domestic performances...Parthiv and Saha both average around 40 in the domestic circuit and have plenty of matches behind them (atleast Parthiv does) and parthiv is also Gujarat captain, which has been doing good...so selectors going right id say... in terms of good wicketkeeping, i think DInesh karthik is currently the best keeper, infact, better than dhoni, but his batting isn't as consistent....and yes, hes not the captain... :P

  • Karthik_CricketFan on July 11, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    Has he announced his retirement?

  • thurc on July 11, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    if any of these guys were better than boucher theyd have got selected, clearly they didnt score enough domestic runs or werent good enough keepers to stop bouch from being selected. its not like sa cricket has missed out on an andy flower or adam gilchrist here. this article is more an affirmation of the consistency of mark boucher than how his rivals (if u can call them that) failed. morne van wyk though does look to be quite a good player

  • NeilMatthews68 on July 11, 2011, 11:36 GMT

    'Only two remain standing.' They're wicketkeepers. They should be crouching!

  • sacricketlegend on July 11, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    What a pity these other okes never got a fair chance. That's the problem with South African sports administration - the mindset is totally wrong. It's the same reason we are labelled as 'chokers' at World Cups. Boucher kept on being picked even when he wasn't performing after the first two years. Pothas and Kruger van Wyk were both better batsmen and just as good with the gloves as the incumbent but they left and eventuallyTsolekile was drafted in as a quota player when the selectors said Boucher had an 'attitude problem'. Then they realised Tsolekile was not close to being an international calibre player. And now we're stuck with Boucher, who has not been bad, but we could have done better in this time. And who will replace him? Kuhn? Oh boy.

  • Mcgrath-Dravid-Flintoff on July 11, 2011, 8:47 GMT

    Mark Boucher should still be in the ODI side! He's a good finisher and often doesn't choke

  • howizzat on July 11, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    India will be facing the same problem, five years from now when Dhoni plans to retire, unless the selectors hunt for a young WK. Right now they are not showing any foresight. Otherwise they would not have gone for Parthiv Patel as the replacement. Situation was same when Mongia retired abnd there was nobody around. Dravid then had to take the onus. At least the selectors should be once bitten twice shy and go to the domestic Ranaji circuit(not IPL) to search one.

  • Andre2 on July 11, 2011, 7:51 GMT

    And what about AB de Villiers as wicket-keeper for the test side once Boucher retires ? AB de Villiers can do everything in the groud : bat, field, even bowl if necessary ! Boucher has one test wicket but AB de Villiers has 2 already !

  • donda on July 11, 2011, 4:19 GMT

    Boucher record as a wicket keeper is phenomenal and he is truly a legend but because we are use to Gilchrist and Dhoni , we no more appreciate specialist wicket keepers. To me Boucher is Dravid of cricket, he is really the Wall behind the crease.

    But most of the fans will not agree me but to me he one of the all time top 5 wicket keepers the world has ever seen.

    His record in Test is perfect resume of how good he is.

  • nskaile on July 11, 2011, 3:31 GMT

    wow.... finaly cricinfo wrote something about this saf unsung hero (Boucher). Always wanted to lknow about him more but never got chance.... i just wish someone from cricinfo sit wid him and do a interview with him. Most underrated Saf match winner ever. a true FIGHTER!

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  • nskaile on July 11, 2011, 3:31 GMT

    wow.... finaly cricinfo wrote something about this saf unsung hero (Boucher). Always wanted to lknow about him more but never got chance.... i just wish someone from cricinfo sit wid him and do a interview with him. Most underrated Saf match winner ever. a true FIGHTER!

  • donda on July 11, 2011, 4:19 GMT

    Boucher record as a wicket keeper is phenomenal and he is truly a legend but because we are use to Gilchrist and Dhoni , we no more appreciate specialist wicket keepers. To me Boucher is Dravid of cricket, he is really the Wall behind the crease.

    But most of the fans will not agree me but to me he one of the all time top 5 wicket keepers the world has ever seen.

    His record in Test is perfect resume of how good he is.

  • Andre2 on July 11, 2011, 7:51 GMT

    And what about AB de Villiers as wicket-keeper for the test side once Boucher retires ? AB de Villiers can do everything in the groud : bat, field, even bowl if necessary ! Boucher has one test wicket but AB de Villiers has 2 already !

  • howizzat on July 11, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    India will be facing the same problem, five years from now when Dhoni plans to retire, unless the selectors hunt for a young WK. Right now they are not showing any foresight. Otherwise they would not have gone for Parthiv Patel as the replacement. Situation was same when Mongia retired abnd there was nobody around. Dravid then had to take the onus. At least the selectors should be once bitten twice shy and go to the domestic Ranaji circuit(not IPL) to search one.

  • Mcgrath-Dravid-Flintoff on July 11, 2011, 8:47 GMT

    Mark Boucher should still be in the ODI side! He's a good finisher and often doesn't choke

  • sacricketlegend on July 11, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    What a pity these other okes never got a fair chance. That's the problem with South African sports administration - the mindset is totally wrong. It's the same reason we are labelled as 'chokers' at World Cups. Boucher kept on being picked even when he wasn't performing after the first two years. Pothas and Kruger van Wyk were both better batsmen and just as good with the gloves as the incumbent but they left and eventuallyTsolekile was drafted in as a quota player when the selectors said Boucher had an 'attitude problem'. Then they realised Tsolekile was not close to being an international calibre player. And now we're stuck with Boucher, who has not been bad, but we could have done better in this time. And who will replace him? Kuhn? Oh boy.

  • NeilMatthews68 on July 11, 2011, 11:36 GMT

    'Only two remain standing.' They're wicketkeepers. They should be crouching!

  • thurc on July 11, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    if any of these guys were better than boucher theyd have got selected, clearly they didnt score enough domestic runs or werent good enough keepers to stop bouch from being selected. its not like sa cricket has missed out on an andy flower or adam gilchrist here. this article is more an affirmation of the consistency of mark boucher than how his rivals (if u can call them that) failed. morne van wyk though does look to be quite a good player

  • Karthik_CricketFan on July 11, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    Has he announced his retirement?

  • ramanispeaks on July 11, 2011, 16:21 GMT

    @howizzat - Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha HAVE been selected based on their domestic performances...Parthiv and Saha both average around 40 in the domestic circuit and have plenty of matches behind them (atleast Parthiv does) and parthiv is also Gujarat captain, which has been doing good...so selectors going right id say... in terms of good wicketkeeping, i think DInesh karthik is currently the best keeper, infact, better than dhoni, but his batting isn't as consistent....and yes, hes not the captain... :P