Boucher's vital fifty showed the guts and determination of a player whose star rarely shines as bright as some
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"Maybe they should keep their mouths shut and focus on watching the game," spat Mark Boucher at the end of South Africa's tour of Australia. On another gripping day of verbal banter and seesawing cricket between these two fiercely proud sides, Boucher's value as a gritty opponent was confirmed. And so was the respect which Australia hold him in.
Scarcely had Boucher asked the umpire for his guard when Australia pounced; verbal volleys were lobbed up and furrowed brows creased their foreheads. Shane Warne was the first to greet him and Boucher - never one to take a backward step - responded in kind. Shortly after the first altercation, Steve Bucknor, the umpire - the only one to bear any semblance of a grin - was forced to separate the two. Boucher was a wanted man.
Playing against Australia ignites a competitiveness in Boucher which is more evident than most; for him, they are equals and not to be feared. Yet his cricket so often goes ignored, hidden behind the headline-grabbing hundreds of some of his more glamorous team-mates. Although clearly a passionate person and gritty wicketkeeper-batsman, he is the quiet man of the side, which only adds resonance and poignancy to whatever he says. While South Africa have been found wanting this season against Australia, Boucher is one of few to escape with his reputation enhanced. Australians aren't forthcoming in their praise; a crude sledge here and there as common as "well played, mate". That being the case, Australia have virtually draped gold bullions around Boucher's neck and laid out the red carpet. They recognise that in Boucher there is something, well, Australian.
In that one-dayer at Johannesburg earlier in the month Herschelle Gibbs was the show pony extraordinaire. His 175 broke records and sent him, and his country, into orbit. But what has happened since? Australia have broken through his defence countless times; only today, finally, in his last innings of South Africa's series did he threaten to return to his old ways, before wasting his wicket at a crucial juncture. Boucher, though, also played in that one-dayer and even hit the winning runs in an impish half-century. That he has managed to carry through that same resilience, surety of self and dogmatic belief into the Test series makes him not only a fine player but an outstanding competitor.
He has been part of South Africa's Test side for nearly ten years and is nine matches away from celebrating his 100th. Arriving at the crease with South Africa needing quick runs, he quickly took the game away from an Australian side who scented blood. In a rare and pleasing moment of positive intent from South Africa, Shaun Pollock was promoted by his stand-in captain, Jacques Kallis. Though he fell for a 47-ball 44, it left Boucher with the perfect situation in which to counter Australia's - and Warne's - aggression.
81 balls later, he walked off with Andre Nel with a half-century to his name leaving South Africa in a strong, if not altogether dominant position. That he did it with such punch and character, especially after the antagonistic welcome given to him by the close fielders, merely confirms his temperament and the value he gives South Africa. And to see Warne visibly sweating with rage, sending down several full tosses and even attempting a bouncer, was a rather apt end to an absorbing day's play.
Even if Australia haven't kept their mouths shut, today they've been made to sit up and respect an opponent for his sheer courage.