Boucher makes one hell of a ‘Mark’
Mark Boucher conceded eight byes on the toughest pitch he is ever likely to keep wickets on and not a single of them was his fault.
Too often Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel slipped down the leg side, striving to slant the ball into right-handed batsmen, only for Boucher to dive, football goalkeeper style, and at least smother the ball if not glove it outright.
The repeated crouching and rising with the ball — something Boucher had to do 531 times on Saturday — puts a tremendous strain on the knees, the thighs, the calves and the back. And for Boucher not to cramp till the very end of the day was a remarkable effort from a cricketer who has virtually had sole ownership of the big gloves since Dave Richardson retired in early 1998.
Boucher then held the job for 75 consecutive Tests --- a South African record --- before being prised out. Although no reason was attributed to his dropping, just before South Africa last toured India in 2004, rumours abounded that eight years on the trot in the job --- completely unchallenged --- had made him complacent and that he was not the most positive influence in a young dressing-room.
Thami Tsolekile got the job, but Boucher's time out in the wilderness only lasted three Tests before he was re-instated.
Whether this was merely because the South African cricket board did not want to get into litigation — several prominent sports lawyers believed that Boucher would have a strong case for wrongful termination if the job had been given to Tsolekile merely to fulfil quotas — or because they wanted his "hardness and experience," as Haroon Lorgat, then chairman of the selection committee put it, is debatable.
Either way, Boucher, who was far from amused at being dropped from the side, conceded that it served a purpose when he made his return.
"It did me good. It made me realise what I was taking for granted, how much I missed it and still wanted it," he said.
In a Test like this, when the ball was alternately shooting low and then exploding, the ’keeper’s job was a demanding one, and Boucher had to call upon every bit of his 113-Test experience.
Wicket-keeping is a thankless job, and the breed often only gets noticed when it commits mistakes. On the day, Boucher's contribution was too big to ignore.