Boucher loves pres­sure

Proteas wick­et­keeper has no plans to re­tire soon

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MIKE DE BRUYN

MARK BOUCHER could quite eas­ily call it quits on a record­break­ing 14-year Test ca­reer, sit back, re­lax, mar­vel at his achieve­ments and gloat in the ac­co­lades that would surely come flood­ing his way.

But no, the Proteas wick­et­keeper- bats­man, who cel­e­brates his 35th birth­day to­day, is made of sterner stuff and hasn’t con­tem­plated re­tir­ing from the Test arena.

In­stead, the stocky-framed, gutsy per­former re­mains as pas­sion­ate about the game as he did when he made his Test de­but back in 1997 against Pak­istan, aged 20.

“To be given the chance to rep­re­sent one’s coun­try is a huge hon­our and priv­i­lege and one that I re­spect with ab­so­lute com­mit­ment,” said Boucher.

“I love the game and all that goes with it, at all lev­els. I’ve had a long in­nings. I still get goose­bumps ev­ery time I step onto the field. There’s no feel­ing like it, I want it to con­tinue.

“But there are no guar­an­tees. You are, as the say­ing goes, ‘only as good as your last game’. And mine wasn’t that bad in the sec­ond Test against Aus­tralia.

“I thought I was in good nick with the bat be­fore fall­ing cheaply and my keep­ing was pretty nifty as well.

“But I know I haven’t been con­tribut­ing much with the bat in re­cent times and know all too well that the pres­sure for me to start mak­ing telling con­tri­bu­tions is on.”

Boucher took five catches in the drawn two-match Test se­ries against Aus­tralia to be­come the first player to take 500 catches ( cur­rently 504 catches, 22 stump­ings), but scored just 22 runs in three in­nings com­ing in at No 7.

Be­ing the last recog­nised bats­man be­fore the start of the tail places Boucher un­der pres­sure to score and milk as many runs as pos­si­ble with the tailen­ders, some­thing he has been able to ac­com­plish on many pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions in com­pil­ing more than 5,000 runs in 141 matches at an av­er­age of 30.29, plac­ing him sec­ond on the all­time run-list for keep­ers, be­hind Adam Gilchrist.

Boucher has scored five cen­turies (his last came seven years ago against the West Indies) and 34 fifties.

The fact that he’s been shy of runs has placed Boucher un­der scrutiny to jus­tify his fu­ture se­lec­tion.

“I thrive on pres­sure, if there are chal­lenges to my slot in the Test team, I wel­come them. I’ve never taken my se­lec­tion as a given... one has to con­tinue to be con­tribut­ing to the team’s cause on a con­sis­tent ba­sis to jus­tify be­ing se­lected.

“I don’t look be­hind me to see who’s gun­ning for my place, I only look ahead to what I can do to stay ahead of the chas­ing pack.”

So who are the pre­tenders to the spot of Boucher, who did lose his place to Tham i Tsolek­ile for three Tests in 2004/05?

“There aren’t any se­ri­ous con­tenders for Mark’s place, says Richard Py­bus, coach of the Co­bras, Boucher’s do­mes­tic fran­chise).

“Ob­vi­ously, at do­mes­tic level, there are play­ers – such as Heino Khun (Ti­tans), Daryn Smit ( Dol­phins), Tsolek­ile (Lions) and Morne van Wyk (Knights) – who are ca­pa­ble be­hind the stumps and with the bat, but not in the same class as Mark right now,” said Py­bus, who has known Boucher since he was 14.

“Those call­ing for his head at in­ter­na­tional level are do­ing so with lit­tle un­der­stand­ing in terms of just what a valu­able cog in the ma­chine Boucher is to the Proteas’ cause.

“Sure, he hasn’t been scor­ing big of late, that hap­pens in any­one’s ca­reer at cer­tain times, but let’s not for­get that he was joint man-of-the-se­ries against Eng­land in the 2009/10 se­ries with three cru­cial half­cen­turies.

“He scored a vi­tal half-cen­tury in the drawn two-match se­ries against In­dia at the be­gin­ning of 2011. For Mark it’s a ques­tion of work­ing on a

‘I don’t look be­hind me to see who’s gun­ning for my place, I only look ahead to what I can do to stay ahead of the chas­ing pack’

few bat­ting de­fects that have crept into his play re­cently.

“We’ve been work­ing hard on them and it’s a mat­ter of time be­fore he starts scor­ing.”

No doubt Boucher is fully aware that An­drew Hud­son, the national con­vener of se­lec­tors, and Proteas coach Gary Kirsten have in­di­cated to him that he needs to start mak­ing runs in or­der to end the de­bate on a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor.

“I’ve been work­ing re­ally hard on my bat­ting over the last few weeks and feel things are im­prov­ing,” said Boucher. “I’ve been hit­ting the ball well and feel good about things.

“I’ve also worked hard on my keep­ing, with the help of my men­tor Ray Jen­nings. Now it’s all about de­liv­er­ing on match day.”

So what drives Boucher to want to con­tinue play­ing.

“The pas­sion, hunger and drive is very much alive in me,” said Boucher. “I still get very ex­cited ev­ery time I walk on to the cricket field. Play­ing for the team badge over­rides all my achieve­ments. As long as I’m still fit, I feel I can still play a big part in the team’s fu­ture suc­cess.”

And to those peo­ple call­ing for your head? “I’m not go­ing to al­low one or two peo­ple with hid­den agen­das to af­fect me and my ca­reer. I know who they are, ev­ery­one knows who they are, these two guys have al­ways thrown out neg­a­tive com­ments and have noth­ing pos­i­tive to say about South African cricket.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing as I’ve put out a lot for my coun­try over the years… let’s leave it at that and see what the fu­ture holds.”

Gallo Im­ages

NO PLANS OF QUIT­TING: Mark Boucher rel­ishes the pres­sure of keep­ing his place in the Test team.

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