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THE sporting gods can be incredibly cruel, but the way Mark Boucher’s international cricket career was so freakishly brought to a premature end was mean and brutal.
The gutsy wicketkeeper should have been allowed to end his time on the international cricketing stage after the Proteas tour to England. It would have been the perfect swansong to nearly 15 years of dedicated service as wicketkeeper/batsman for the national team, often under trying circumstances.
The hope was that he would bow out after making a contribution toward his team moving into top spot on the international Test rankings.
Boucher has not always been the most popular player with the public, and there have been times when his place in the squad was in doubt, or even when he was dropped, but such is his fighting spirit that he usually ended the bar speculation and proved the selectors wrong with a special innings, or a series of great catches and stumpings.
He holds some phenomenal records: in Test cricket he has made the most dismissals (555) and taken the most catches (532); he holds the SA record for most dismissals in a Test series (26 from five matches) and match (nine, equal with Dave Richardson), and the most career stumpings (23); and he is the only person to have taken six catches in a Test innings four times. To prove that he is capable in front of the stumps, he holds the SA record for the fastest one-day international century and the world ninth-wicket Test match partnership record with Pat Symcox.
But perhaps the cruellest irony is that he was so close to two remarkable milestones. He was just one dismissal away from becoming the first player in history to record 1 000 dismissals in an international career. And had he played in all three of the Test matches in England as expected, he would have become the first wicketkeeper to play 150 Tests for his country.
As a team, the Proteas will miss the wicketkeeper/batsman, but as spectators we will miss him even more.