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London – AB de Villiers reckons Mark Boucher can still play a key role in South Africa's upcoming Test series in England despite a freak injury that forced him into retirement.
De Villiers is preparing to keep wicket in Boucher's place during next week's first Test at The Oval after the Proteas great suffered a severe eye injury after being struck by a flying bail in the tour opener against Somerset at Taunton earlier this week.
That injury prompted the 35-year-old Boucher, whose tally of 555 dismissals in 147 Tests is a world record, to announce his international retirement and so rule him out of a three-match series where any sort of win for South Africa will see them replace England as the world No 1 in the five-day format.
But de Villiers, who will try to get his glovework going during a three-day game against Kent in Canterbury, south-east of London, starting Friday, said Boucher, with the cricket world wishing him well in his battle to save the sight in his left eye, would prove a powerful source of inspiration.
“He's been an idol in South African cricket for many years; he's been a rock, the guy with the guts,” middle-order batsman de Villiers, who has kept in a handful of Tests during Boucher's 15-year career, said Thursday.
And the 28-year-old has particular reasons for wanting to do well in his former teammate's place.
“He was someone who was there at the start of my career, who looked after me, took me under his wing, helped me a lot with my cricket,” de Villiers explained.
“I probably wouldn't be here without him. It's probably a big call but it's true – he's done a lot for my cricket.
“So not to have him here, it's a bit of an emotional thing – which I've sort of gotten over over the last few days. But yes, they are huge boots to fill.”
Proteas vice-captain de Villiers added: “Obviously, he was, if not the best, then one of the best wicketkeepers in the world and I'm a little bit undercooked when it comes to Test cricket wicketkeeping.
“But I'm looking forward to it if the gloves come my way in the Test matches. It's a challenge I'll take with both hands.
“It would be great to win (the series) and to give it up to him.
“I think he's inspired a lot of us over the years, and the whole country as well, so it's definitely a bit of extra motivation.
“With what has happened to Mark, it's an emotional rollercoaster we've all been through.”
South Africa have called Thami Tsolekile into their squad but he won't arrive in time for any match practice with the tourists before the first Test.
Meanwhile the competitive Boucher has given de Villiers a few tips on what to say to the England batsmen out in the middle.
“I do have a few things to say to some of the guys that Mark would have said, and he's passed on a few things to say,” de Villiers said.
“He said 'Whatever happened to me is okay, but so long as you pass the messages on'. I said I'll do it.” – Sapa-AFP