Boucher loves pressure
Proteas wicketkeeper has no plans to retire soon
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.”
NO PLANS OF QUITTING: Mark Boucher relishes the pressure of keeping his place in the Test team.