Two balls to come, one run to win, one wicket remaining, the fastest bowler in the world pawing at his mark ready to bowl. What was Mark Boucher thinking when he took his guard at the Wanderers on March 12, 2006? What words did he use to inspire himself with the score on 434/9 as Brett Lee began that languid lope up to the stumps? Should he nudge a single or go for the smash?
“The faint hearted never f*cked a fair maiden,” he told Graeme Smith afterwards. Lee tries to pitch it up, Boucher belts it over mid-on for four – the greatest one-day international won by the greatest wicketkeeper of them all. It was a JFK moment. Where were you when it happened? I was in a hotel room in Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games, slumped on a chair, the mini-bar destroyed and my head utterly discombobulated. Boucher, who hates a dop, would have been proud.
There was horror and sadness this week at the news of Boucher’s freak injury. Then there were the memories of a magnificent career, 15 years of scrapping, sumptuous ’keeping, savvy sledging, selfless batting and a sharp, witty tongue. Tatenda Taibu, who announced his retirement from cricket to follow a religious calling on Tuesday, the same day Boucher was forced to retire. In a Test against Zimbabwe at SuperSport Park in 2005, Boucher kept up a stream of chatter that rates as the wittiest bit of sledging ever. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z021pcD74nk) “You don’t want to get out now, because you’ll be averaging in single fingers for this tour…I’ll walk you to the changeroom as well. What are you averaging? You must know your average. Nine? Ten? I think it’s nine. Or 9.5, so we’ll give you 10.” Funny.
Then there was Bouch the batsman. He and Pat Symcox put on a record 195 for the ninth wicket at the Wanderers against Pakistan in 1998. It was Boucher’s home debut, he walked out on St Valentines Day with South Africa in trouble and soon the nation would fall in love with him. When Symcox got out, pulling Saqlain Mushtaq to Shoaib Akhtar at mid-on, he turned to Boucher and raised his bat at him, partly in apology, but mostly to thank him. Boucher scored 78, with nine fours and a six, having batted for 265 minutes. Unafraid.
At Adelaide during a VB Series match Boucher went up for a catch off Marvan Attapatu. The Sri Lankan took a step out of his crease, and with his hands still above his head from the appeal, Boucher had thrown it straight down, hitting the base of the stumps and running him out. Stunning. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPQsTywZ0C0)
In 2009, Boucher had his toe broken by a Shaun Tait yorker in an ODI in Australia. He batted through the pain for 45 minutes, scoring 31 not out and leading South African home. Strong.
His cricket career is over, but Boucher’s legacy will live long. The man with little sign of a faint heart deserves the fair maidens.