Manchester - Former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur hailed the “phenomenal” Mark Boucher after the Proteas’ wicketkeeper was forced into premature international retirement by a freak eye injury.
Boucher had to undergo three hours of surgery after being struck in the left eyeball by a bail on the first day of South Africa's opening match of their tour of England against Somerset at Taunton on Monday.
The incident occurred when a ball from spinner Imran Tahir clean-bowled Gemaal Hussain, with Boucher at the stumps and wearing a cap instead of a helmet.
The 35-year-old, a Proteas mainstay for the best part of 15 years, was due to return home after being released from hospital on Tuesday and South Africa captain Graeme Smith, speaking at Taunton, read out a statement on Boucher's behalf that confirmed his international retirement.
“I was really disappointed for him,” Arthur, now coaching Australia, told BBC Radio ahead of the fifth one-day international against England at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
“I know he wanted to come here because he wanted it to be his real swansong as a Test series, so it is really disappointing to end this way for Mark.”
Arthur, who worked with Boucher at both domestic and international level, added: “I have lots of memories as his coach, too many memories. I was really close to Mark, I had a special affinity for him, I knew his family very well.”
Arthur also recalled the time when Boucher was dropped for the tour of India in 2004.
“We went through a lot of hard times together, a lot of blood, sweat and tears with Bouch.
“I thought he was a fine cricketer, a guy you really wanted on your side, a guy that never, ever gave up, fought to the bitter end and that's how I'll always remember him.”
Boucher was the first keeper to take 500 Test catches and Arthur was in no doubt of his quality as a gloveman.
“I think he's right up there (with the best wicketkeepers), you have a look at his batting and wicketkeeping stats and they're phenomenal.”
In the short term, AB de Villiers, primarily a batsman but who has kept for South Africa, seems set to take over for the first Test at The Oval on July 19.
“They do need to get over it, I'm sure they will. He's going to be missed hugely though,” said Arthur.
“I remember the series we (South Africa) won here in 2008, the Test match we won at Edgbaston was on the back of a very good innings by Graeme Smith, but Bouch was there at the end of it.
“I remember him telling me at tea time, he said 'coach if I'm at the wicket, and I will be there, we're going to win the series, we didn't come all the way to lose this'.
“That just typified exactly what he was like. He was always in there, he was always up for a challenge.
“I've been in contact, and it is uncertain for him. Let's just hope that he gets his eyesight back and everything's good.” - Sapa-AFP