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November 29, 2011
Mark Boucher, the South Africa wicketkeeper, is under pressure to score runs in order to prolong his international career. Andrew Hudson, the convenor of selectors, and Gary Kirsten, the national coach, have both said Boucher's batting form needs to improve to end questions over his inclusion in future South African squads.
Boucher is not part of South Africa's present limited-overs plans, though he filled in for the injured AB de Villiers for the home series against Australia, and he made only 20 runs in three innings during the two-Test series. Boucher batted at No. 7 and was the last recognised batsman before the tail began. Hudson said it was disappointing not to see a more responsible performance from Boucher.
"He understands that he needs to get some runs," Hudson told ESPNcricinfo. "It's not for me to say that, he knows that. Any No. 7 needs to be a pin, it is not unique to South Africa."
Boucher's wicketkeeping, however, was up to standards during the Tests against Australia. He took five catches to become the first player with 500 catches in Test cricket. "He is an exceptional wicketkeeper and he showed it in this series," Kirsten said after the Johannesburg Test. "It's not necessary for me or anybody else to tell him that he needs to improve his batting, because he knows it."
However, the former convenor of selectors Mike Proctor said Boucher's present dip in form could be linked to his axing for the 2011 World Cup. AB de Villiers was South Africa's wicketkeeper for the tournament in the subcontinent. "He [Boucher] was left out of the World Cup squad and I think that's when they [the selectors] should have kept him," Proctor said. "AB is an adequate wicket-keeper but if you put him behind the stumps, you lose the best fielder in the world."
de Villiers suffered a finger injury during the Champions League Twenty20 which opened the door for Boucher to be recalled to the ODI side. He scored 22 runs in three innings against Australia and did not fulfill his responsibility as a finisher. "Everything is about confidence," Proctor said. "If he is worried about whether he is going to be picked or not, that can play a role."
Before the second ODI in Durban, Boucher asked former South Africa wicketkeeper and coach, Ray Jennings, to travel to the city and give him personal coaching time. People close to Boucher said they had not seen him ask for assistance in this way in the past. Jennings and Boucher practised for two hours, on two separate occasions, and worked mostly on his wicketkeeping.
Proctor said he expected Boucher to "bounce back" in the upcoming home series against Sri Lanka, which begins on December 15, but he would have to take it "one season at a time." Hudson indicated that if Boucher showed improvement, he would secure his place for next year's tours to New Zealand, England and Australia.
"If Mark scores runs that puts the debate [over who will be his successor] to rest," Hudson said. "There is no reason he can't keep playing over the next year."
There is no clarity over who will be Boucher's successor. Heino Kuhn is the likely candidate for Tests. He has a first-class average of 44, has been included in A-team squads and has played five T20 internationals. Kuhn has not played an ODI, though, which leaves the door open for the likes of Thami Tsolkeile or Morne van Wyk. "We need someone who is good with the gloves, a first-class keeper, instead of just a batsman who can keep," Hudson said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala