South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day February 16, 2013

Boucher finally says goodbye

Seven months after a freak accident forced his retirement, fans and former team-mates paid public tribute to Mark Boucher

Imagine the inside of your eye exposed and bleeding. Imagine that solidifying and then imagine the residue being scraped away. Mark Boucher lived through those things the first time he went under the knife to operate on his left eye when it was punctured by a bail to end his career.

"The worst pain I had was after that first operation. The doctor said it wasn't going to be a painful operation and it would take an hour but it actually took four-and-half hours. There was a bit of blood on the cornea and they had to sandpaper it away. I was drugged up but not as much as I wanted to be," he joked as he spoke to the media during his tribute day at the Newlands Test.

Boucher retired from the game in July but has had to wait seven months for a send-off. The cricketing schedule and a postponement for personal reasons had something to do with the delay but Boucher's health was also a concern. The reality is that the damage done was worse than initially expected and has required a much longer recovery time.

When Boucher left the UK on July 9, there was hope that he would be back at Lord's to watch the third match of the England series - what would have been his 150th Test. Travel was not an option at the time so he remained in South Africa but the team honoured him when they raised the Test mace.

Smith and Jacques Kallis wrote messages on their shirts which read, "We miss u Bouch," and "Bouch 150". Smith's was framed and handed over to Boucher during the tea interval today. A presentation from his team-mates formed part of the events as Boucher acknowledged fans for the last time. "I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to the crowds before so this was really special," he said.

Despite a mild case of flu, Boucher looked relaxed and had no hesitation discussing the gory details of his injury. "When it happened, I wasn't sure if the ball or the bail had hit me," he said. "Having looked at it on YouTube, I don't like to look at it too much because it freaks me out a bit. The bail hit me in the eye and went two centimetres back."

Within 24 hours, Boucher made one of the biggest decisions of his life. "I sat down with Paddy Upton, Jacques and Graeme. I knew the eye was seriously damaged. I was always going to retire so it was an easy decision make. I didn't want to go out that way but it could have happened at the beginning of my career and I wouldn't have been able to play so many matches for South Africa. I have got no hurt over it at all."

The pain has all been physical and there is more to come. Boucher has already had eight operations and is set for four more before the end of the year. "Some of the operations I have been awake for, like when they do this miniature procedure where they take a needle and put it in the eye and drain blood out," he said, without flinching at the description.

Boucher has accepted he is unlikely to see perfectly out of that eye ever again - he lost the lens, the iris and the pupil - although he is hopeful he will regain some vision. "Right now, it is like looking through binoculars that aren't focused. There is some sort of vision but I haven't got a lens in, so it's difficult to determine how much I will be able to get.

"They do a test on the retina and at the moment that test is pushing out 50% vision. It's not to say that I am going to get 50% back but the doctors are very happy with that. I can see colours and shapes. I will only be able to tell people what sort of vision I will have once they put the lens in.

"I will never play cricket again. I am back to doing normal things now and I have got to be patient with the healing process. I am not really a patient person but that's what I've got to do."

Until then, Boucher's life is full of new projects. He has launched a conservation project in conjunction with South African Breweries, which aims to raise fund to register rhinos, an endangered animal, on a national DNA database so they can be tracked down if poached.

"We are trying to raise a million Rand to give to a veterinary lab," Boucher explained. "It's like the CSI of the bush. You find a horn and you find a poacher and you can put the two together for DNA and you can then prosecute on that." His days also include a lot of golf and his wine label venture with Kallis.

Like Ricky Ponting, who retired in December, Boucher misses the camaraderie but not the bootcamp. "I don't miss the warm ups at all. Jacques and I used to joke in the slips that we'd love to be playing golf and now I can go and play the golf. But, the feeling of hitting the winning runs is special, or taking a good catch.

"That is something I will probably never feel again but I've got over that. I get the same feeling when we are on a rhino drive and we see the animal get up and move. I've replaced it with another passion of mine."

He has also been used as a mentor for the limited-overs' teams and may become involved with as a wicketkeeping consultant. "I would love to do it with the national team," he said. "Gary Kirsten asked me to look at a couple of keepers around the country and if I can give back to the game, I would love to, but nothing formal has been set up yet."

Boucher was brought in before the New Zealand series to work with Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers and said it was more mental than technical aspects that he focused on. "AB has been keeping really well. I don't think AB needs a lot of work, it's just about the mental side of things," he said. "With Quinton, I spent two sessions just talking with him. I was helping not only with keeping but talking to guys, because it's a young side, that one day side. You won't see me talking to the Test guys, they can look after themselves."

After his day at Newlands, cricket lovers can be assured that Boucher is doing the same thing for himself.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Fazle on February 19, 2013, 7:56 GMT

    Always feel you are better than Healy but say in any arrangement where I lost every time comparing you with Healy and Gilchrist. Congrats and thank you for your contribution in cricket.

  • Dummy4 on February 18, 2013, 19:34 GMT

    Some great tributes to Boucher ... and from all around the world which shows how popular he was interationally.

    Yes, many people have accidents and / or born with medical problems such as bad eye conditions. it is not the end of the world. But he has handled it all with tremondous courage and dignity and should be applauded for that.

    It would have been great for him to have had the opportunity to leave the cricket arena under better circumstances.

  • g on February 18, 2013, 14:27 GMT

    Hi Bouch, you should be proud of your contribution to the team. Though I am an Indian, I wont forget the hitting runs in that 438 match. Nice to know about your new initiative as well. Wish u good luck!

  • Dummy4 on February 18, 2013, 11:48 GMT

    my eye are full of tears while reading this.although i knew that he will never play again.i do not wanted to see inzzamam ponting mcgrath murli and wasim leaving the field.i am also afraid one day i will hear kallis and tendulkar announcing their retirements i don't know bouch will read this or not but i want to say that i will miss you and hope i can hear from you from time to time bouch

  • Abhinav on February 17, 2013, 19:48 GMT

    When SA needed a man to win a match from a situation which was unlikely to produce desired result, Boucher always stood up, people often call SA chokers, but many forget easily that Boucher won many such games which were not in SA hands.

    This was not an end which was expected for Boucher, such a great wicket-keeper, many of the takes he made were truly unbelievable, to all the guys, no comparisons between gilly n bouch please, both r truly great, but this article is only telling us about the pain Boucher had to endure, he did so, it would have been so difficult for such a fine cricketer to go out like this, not only this, now he is fighting for his health, wish u great life ahead Mr. Mark Boucher

    I would like to tell you all Indian fans feel the same way for you..Get well soon.. :) Abhinav Sharma

  • ganesh on February 17, 2013, 14:25 GMT

    Bye Champ! Thank you for the memories!! Wishing you the very best! Good Luck!!

    P.S : Nice to see a lot of fans irrespective of their nationality honoring this champion player!

  • B on February 17, 2013, 13:22 GMT

    @greatshinwari: What's your point? Boucher not as good as Gilchrist therefore doesn't deserve the tributes? Boucher has been a magnificent cricketer who has achieved wonderful things over a long period of time. He suffered a horrifying freak accident which he has handled with class and courage, and he is going on to do new, positive things with his life. Huge respect, I say. (From an Aussie and big Gilly fan.)

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    Bouch the quintessential Protea player.His nuggety defiant play has been his outstanding attributes.Everyone who is remotely interested in the game will doff their caps.We will miss you and hope you will enjoy your retirement and we can hear from you from time to time.The Dale boy is a shining example for all of us

  • ubaid on February 17, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    compare the stats of both boucher and gilly... IN TESTS: gilly batting avg: 47.60 and dismissals/match: 4.3 boucher avg: 33.3 and dismissals/match: 3.7

    in ODI's gilly avg 36 and strike rate of 97 boucher avg 28 and strike rate of 84...