One dismissal short of a magnanimous 1000, 55 runs short of becoming the highest run scorer amongst wicketkeepers and three matches short of playing 150 Tests.
Mark Boucher would have definitely reached all these milestones had he played the three Tests against England later this month, and more importantly could have bid a proper farewell to the game that he first played as a young twenty year old and revolutionized the role of a wicketkeeper in the next fifteen years.
But a freak eye injury, ironically while keeping, means that Boucher would be left stranded heartbreakingly close to these landmarks. But the fact that he has got so close to these landmarks speaks about his consistency behind the stumps that enabled him to remain not only South Africa’s but the world’s premier keeper over the last decade.
Boucher was first picked into the South African team for a tour to Pakistan when Dave Richardson suffered an injury. But it was on Pakistan’s return tour that Boucher first managed to make an impression behind the stumps and also in front of it. Involved in a record 195 run stand with Pat Symcox, Boucher helped the Proteas salvage a draw from an hopeless situation and that was the beginning of his undisputed reign (barring three Tests in 2004) as South Africa’s premier stumper over the next decade.
It took only four Tests for him to take the wicketkeeping world by storm as he picked up nine dismissals including six in the first innings following it up with another six in the first innings of his fifth test. He repeated this feat two more times over the course of his career and remains the only keeper to have six dismissals in an innings four times.
Boucher’s keeping abilities were never in doubt. In an Adam Gilchrist era where each team were looking for their own wicketkeeper batsman, South Africa found theirs in Boucher. Struggling at first, Boucher slowly settled into the team winning numerous matches for the Proteas as a No. 7 bat in both the ODI and Test arenas. Boucher’s ODI stats might just show a single century, and that against a lowly Zimbabwe but it must be remembered that he mostly batted in the slog overs and played many a winning knock, none more memorable than the unbeaten half century in South Africa’s record chase of 438 against the Aussies.
There were disappointing times too. Boucher was at the helm of action in the 2003 World Cup game at home where he defended the last ball in the rain affected tied game against Sri Lanka which knocked the hosts out in the first round. After continuous failures with the bat, Boucher was finally dropped from the ODI team in 2010 and missed out on the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent as South Africa’s World Cup drought continued.
Boucher though continued to be an integral part of the Test team with no suitable replacement in line.Although he had hinted at retirement later this year, the injury means that the Proteas would have do without his services for the English summer. Ab De Villiers, who had already taken over from Boucher in the ODIs, will don the gloves temporarily while Morne Van Wyk and Thami Tsolokile are the only names that pop in mind as long term replacements in Tests.
But for now, let’s just all pray and hope that Boucher recovers well from his eye surgery and as Jacques Kallis, the only South African with more test caps than Boucher, said, “It’s not just about cricket anymore. ”