Three years ago, in March, a beleaguered Zimbabwe team had been slaughtered in the first Test in Cape Town, blasted out for only 54 by an all-pace attack, and lost by an innings and 21 runs inside two days. In the second Test, when Tatenda Taibu, the Zimbabwe captain, came out to bat, Mark Boucher, standing up to Nicky Boje, let rip the following:
The only time you're going to score runs is when we have one seamer on the field. Oh! that's a big shot Tatenda.
Where was your mouth when we were at Cape Town and we had a full seam attack? We've got one seamer and all of a sudden you have a big mouth man.
I'm going to get out now because I think you're averaging single figures in this tour. I'll walk you to the changeroom as well. Eh? What're you averaging? Nine? Ten? Maybe it's 9.5 so we'll give you ten.
Taibu didn't respond, but it didn't make much of a difference, with Zimbabwe losing by an innings and 62 runs, even if they fought harder than in the first Test. With Andre Nel missing from the team, SA are not just without a bowling spearhead, they're missing their stirrer-in-chief. You can be sure Boucher — with a little help from Graeme Smith — will be more than happy to lead the chirping. In fact, while he stopped short of endorsing sledging, Boucher certainly did not mouth any ICC-style platitudes when he spoke on the subject. “We're all mature enough to realise what we can and can’t do. You talk about sledging, I don't think that's ever going to leave the game,” he said. “You've got two very competitive sides playing for their country it's always going to be there. Hopefully the series will be played in the right spirit of the game, I know that's what I'm going to do. It's going to be very competitive and that's what everyone wants to see. So long as everything is kept above board and played in the right spirit, there shouldn't be a problem.”
When asked if the game would be poorer if sledging was stamped out of the game — as many, beginning with Sunil Gavaskar, who is chairman of the ICC's Cricket Committee — have suggested, Boucher was quick to reply. “Yeah. Look you shouldn’t overstep the mark. The match referees are there to ensure you don’t overstep the mark, especially with all the hype coming from the India-Australia series,” he said. “Players will have to do things in a clever way to get that extra advantage but you don't want to lose this because it will take away the competitive streak.”
When pinned down to the one fire-cracker in the opposition, who has been in the news constantly in the last few weeks — Harbhajan Singh — Boucher said: “We've come up against each other many times in the past. Like I said it's about the competitive nature on the field,” he said. “I’m fighting hard for my country, he's fighting hard too. Both of us have never overstepped the mark .” Harbhajan will be happy for the endorsement that he's never overstepped the mark, but given who the endorsement is coming from, you have to take it with a pinch of salt.