Described as ‘a man to go to war with, but never against’.
Anyone who has ever played with, or against, Mark Boucher will agree that among his many feats his greatest and perhaps most admired contribution to the game of cricket is his bulldog spirit when the chips are down. It’s that very same spirit Boucher fans, family, friends and fellow Proteas players are hoping he’ll draw strength from on his road to recovery, following a freak accident on the pitch during a tour match.
While standing up to spinner Imran Tahir in a game between South Africa and Somerset at Taunton on Monday, July 9, the 35-year-old veteran wicket keeper, who has 999 international dismissals, sustained a serious eye injury when a bail struck him. The bail ruptured Boucher’s eyeball, damaging the sclera. Despite undergoing what doctors termed a ‘successful surgery’, there are fears that Boucher may never recover full sight in his left eye. While a debate has raged regarding cricketing safety gear – Boucher didn’t have any protection over his eyes and, with his face so close to the stumps, he was unable to react in time when the bail shot up after the ball hit the stumps – experts say even if Boucher had been wearing a helmet it would almost certainly not have prevented the injury.
According to Proteas manager, Dr Mohammed Moosajee, the bail is small enough to slip through a visor on a helmet and, in Boucher’s case, the ball had accelerated the path of the bail into his eye. Dr Moosajee spoke about Boucher’s condition just hours after he underwent surgery. “Mark’s theatre procedure took about two-and-a-half hours,” explained Dr Moosajee. “The extent of his eye injury was described under anaesthetic to have been severe or extensive. Although the eyeball has been repaired, the long-term prognosis currently remains unknown. We will have to wait to see how things pan out. From a cricket perspective, Mark has obviously been ruled out of the series.” Boucher had been expected to announce his retirement only after the three-match Test series against England, but because of his injury was forced to retire before the series ended.
At a tribute to Boucher in Cape Town, Cricket SA acting CEO Jacques Faul said it was sad that Boucher’s retirement from international cricket had to be announced under such untimely circumstances. “We were all looking forward to the contribution he was going to make to the Proteas’ Test series in England and the challenge for the world number one ranking and to salute him on achieving the landmark of 150 Test matches. I would like to thank him on behalf of the entire South African cricket family for the wonderful contribution he has made to the success of the Proteas over a period of 15 years.”
Graeme Smith gave a personal message to the team-mate and friend he has been playing with for the past 14 years. “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 for nothing and gives everything. 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 the team remains with us. We wish you a good as possible recovery from your injury. As we bid you farewell as an International cricketer and wish you well for your future, we keep you as a friend and respected Proteas warrior.”
Boucher has since returned home and has starting consultations with a leading eye specialist. The long-term prognosis will only be known once the swelling has gone down and the bleeding has stopped.
“It is with sadness, and in some pain, that I make this announcement (to retire),” said Boucher, in a statement. “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.”
Boucher’s Achievements At A Glance
• Boucher is statistically the most successful wicket keeper in the history of the game.
• He holds the world record for the most dismissals in both Test match and ODI cricket and has completed the unique Test double of 5 000 runs and 500 dismissals.
• He holds a whole clutch of other Test match world records for the most runs without conceding a bye, the highest innings by a night watchman and the ninth-wicket partnership record (with Pat Symcox).
• His 75 consecutive Test match appearances from his début in 1997 until he was dropped for the only time in his career in 2004 is a South African record.
• He has represented this country as both captain and vice-captain.
• His outstanding performances have come when his team has been in its greatest need, notably his second century as a night watchman against England in 1999, at Kingsmead, his ninth-wicket record partnership against Pakistan in only his second Test match in 1998, his match-winning partnerships with Jacques Kallis at Mumbai in 2000 and his performance at Edgbaston in 2008.
• The record Test series against England (2009/2010) was one of his best ever and he was named Joint Man Of The Series.
• He has won SA Cricketer Of The Year three times (2006, 2000 and 1998).
* Information sourced from Cricket Tour Brochure 2010/2011
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