Proteas Test captain Graeme Smith has paid an emotional tribute to Mark Boucher after the record-breaking wicket-keeper was on Tuesday forced to retire from international cricket with an eye injury just one short of a 1 000 dismissals.
Boucher, a 15-year veteran who will close off on 999 catches and stumpings across all formats of the game, quit after undergoing surgery on the severe eye injury he sustained on the opening day of a tour match against Somerset. The 35-year-old admitted he faced an “uncertain recovery” after his three-hour operation on Monday evening.
A sombre Smith read out a statement from Boucher at Taunton: “It is with sadness, and in some pain, that I make this announcement. Due to the severity of my eye injury, I will not be able to play international cricket again.
“I had prepared for this UK tour as well, if not better than I have prepared for any tour in my career. I had never anticipated announcing my retirement now, but circumstances have dictated differently. I have a number of thank you’s to make to people who have made significant contributions during my international career, which I will do in due course.
“For now I would like to thank the huge number of people, many of whom are strangers, for their heartfelt support during the past 24 hours. I am deeply touched by all the well wishes. I wish the team well in the UK, as I head home and on to a road of uncertain recovery.”
Smith then paid his own, and the team’s, emotive tribute: “Bouch, we have walked a long road together, and we are saddened to part under these circumstances. For the 14 years of your international career, you have been a true Proteas warrior, a patriotic South African, a fighter who asks nothing and gives everything,” said Smith.
“You have been a 100 percenter for this team. You have been more than a performer, you have been a motivator, an inspirer, an energiser … and a good friend to many. You leave us today with sad hearts, but also with a deep gratitude for your contributions to our team, and to us as people. The fighting spirit you brought to team remains with us.
“We wish you a good as possible recovery from your injury. As we bid you a farewell as an international cricketer and wish you well for your future, we keep you as a friend and respected Proteas warrior.”
The nature of Boucher’s unusual injury has led to a vast number of well-wishes being sent from within and outside the cricket fraternity.
Boucher is going to be “absolutely difficult” to replace as South Africa’s wicket-keeper, both on and off the field. That was the succinct verdict from his former mentor Ray Jennings on Tuesday.
“His work ethic is second to none, he just has the fighting, never-say-die spirit. So that when there’s pressure, he actually gets excited,” Jennings told the Cape Times on Tuesday.
“He is going to be absolutely difficult to replace. On and off the field.
“His experience, coupled with all the knowledge gained over the past 15 years, has been invaluable to all the bowlers and captains.
“His ability to come back was also incredible. He just fought, and fought, and even when I dropped him in 2004, he just fought his way back again.”
Boucher will be able to look back upon a 147-cap career, during which he claimed 555 Test dismissals, easily ahead of Adam Gilchrist on 416.
The eye injury robbed him of the opportunity of claiming just that one more to reach the magical figure of 1 000 dismissals in international cricket, but retaining the use of his left eye will hopefully put that into perspective.
In fact, there is a bit of Mother Cricket magic in Boucher finishing on 999, almost like the great Don Bradman, who closed his stellar career with a Test batting average of 99.94.
“Boucher’s numbers can’t be broken,” Jennings said.
“If they are, or if anyone is to get close to them, it would have to be a player from South Africa or Australia, where fast bowlers allow wicket-keepers to take a lot of catches.”
Jennings was not the only former South African wicket-keeper who heaped praise on Boucher on Tuesday.
Dave Richardson, the current International Cricket Council chief executive and the Proteas gloveman who preceded Boucher, believed it was the correct call in 1997 to pick Boucher.
“It was between him and Nic Pothas back then, and if you look at Mark’s record, clearly South African cricket got this one right,” Richardson said from his Dubai base on Tuesday. “Mark Boucher has been an outstanding servant for not only his country, but for the game of cricket.
“He was a genuine wicket-keeper/batsman of international class, with a fighting temperament to match.
“He has been a great role model and the game will miss him. I wish him a speedy recovery from his eye injury.”
The latest prognosis on the severity of the damage was read out in a statement from Proteas team manager and doctor Mohammed Moosajee, who was at the bedside of Boucher throughout his surgery.
“Mark’s surgery, which lasted nearly three hours, showed that he sustained a severe eye injury and although the surgeon was able to repair the eyeball, the sensitive nature of the injury makes it difficult to determine the extent of the long-term damage,” said Moosajee. “I spent the night with him in the recovery ward at the hospital and he has been overwhelmed by the messages of support and care he has received from all corners of the world.
“He will take no further part in the series against England and will return back to South Africa as soon as possible.”
The South Africa selectors will name a replacement for Boucher on Wednesday, with Thami Tsolekile set to receive a Test call-up, although Proteas one-day captain AB de Villiers will most likely don the gloves in the first Test against England next Thursday at the Oval in London. The Proteas and England will fight it out over three Tests for the world No 1 ranking.
Meanwhile, Sapa-AFP reports that South Africa reached 282/9 in reply to Somerset’s 312/8 on the final day of the tour match at Taunton yesterday. Hashim Amla top-scored with 64, while Duminy also struck 53.
After the start of day two had been delayed an hour by rain, Jacques Kallis, affected by the traumas of close friend Boucher, retired not out on his overnight score of 45.
From 96/2 at the start, the tourists progressed sedately to 134 before De Villiers, who had replaced Kallis, was bowled off a thin inside edge by medium-pacer Peter Trego for 23.
Amla dropped anchor and reached a solid half-century off 105 balls, with five fours.
Duminy briefly livened up proceedings, smashing a big six over mid-wicket off 21-year-old left-arm spinner Jack Leach. Amla was then bowled by Leach, while Duminy hit four fours and three sixes in facing 100 balls.
Somerset reached 50/1 before the match was called off as a draw.