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Mark Boucher gets closer to the 400 mark
by Partab Ramchand
Oct 05, 2007
Ray Robinson put it aptly in his classic `From the Boundary’ when he observed ``Wicket keepers are like office boys. Few people take notice of them until something gets in a mess - a folder or a chance is lost, an inkpot or a catch spilt, a mail or a stumping missed. For hours on end they may do their duty well and truly but mostly they are out of focus so to say as the onlooker’s gaze is held between wicket and wicket by the principals in the contest, bowler and batsman.’’

This was written over half a century ago and while the lot of the wicket keeper has improved particularly in recent times he still doesn’t get his due. In the poll to pick Wisden’s five cricketers of the century in 2000 there was only one wicketkeeper among the 49 cricketers who got votes – England’s Godfrey Evans who garnered three votes. Overall however these days there is a touch of glamour attached to the wicket keeper’s job thanks in the main to the advent of the wicket keeper batsman. The days when the wicket keeper didn’t contribute much with the bat seems to have gone forever. All wicket keepers these days make contributions in front of the stumps that are as substantial as their work behind them and if they happen to be Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher then we are talking of two cricketers who are the finest wicket keeper batsmen in the history of the game.

A tally of 200 plus dismissals was for long the ultimate ambition of wicket keepers but the proliferation of Test cricket made 300 dismissals a distinct possibility and sure enough Australia’'s Rodney Marsh became the first to break the barrier before retiring with 355 victims. His successor Ian Healy went past that mark settling on 395 thanks to the fact that he played 23 more Tests and now Boucher has gone past him and it is surely only a matter of time before he becomes the first to go past the 400 dismissals mark.

Gilchrist is not far behind him but the fact that the Australian is five years older makes Boucher the odds on favourite to hold the record till some new challenger makes a bid for it in the years to come. With no young challenger anywhere on the horizon right now Boucher’s record should stand for a long time. After all he is not exactly at the end of his career turning 31 this December.

It could not have happened to a nicer guy or a more intense competitor. In this dog eats dog professional world where no quarter is asked for and none given Boucher has maintained high standards of discipline, fitness and wicket keeping skills not to mention his pugnacity with the bat. The fact that he has played 103 Tests and 250 ODIs since his debut a decade ago is proof of this. Batsmen and bowlers have come and gone since 1997 but Boucher has remained a permanent fixture in the South African side and a bulwark of strength. Professional integrity, strategic input as vice captain of the side and the uncanny ability to star in both forms of the game have made Boucher a key component in the South African side. He has scored the second fastest century in ODIs – off just 44 balls – and has also notched up four centuries in the longer version. While batting he is adept in playing both pace and spin, in keeping he is adept at keeping to both pace and spin. He has a low proportion of stumpings compared to Healy and Gilchrist but they had Shane Warne to offer them plenty of stumping opportunities. Boucher has mainly kept to an all seam attack and overall his record of just over two dismissals per Test innings makes him second-best among the top-five most successful keepers, marginally below Gilchrist. Interestingly though it was with a stumping that Boucher became the wicket keeper with the most dismissals in Test cricket reaching the landmark in his 103rd Test - 16 matches fewer than it took Healy to get to 395 victims.

Modest and self effacing as ever Boucher shrugged off his accomplishment. ``If you play over 100 Tests, records are bound to come your way. But this is the best record I have achieved and I am happy with that’’ he said. All the same he was all praise for the person whose record he had broken. ``It is a great feeling to be breaking Healy's record. I used to watch him on TV as a kid and I'm a little sad in a way to be going past Healy," he said.

Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, while congratulating Boucher on his achievement was of the view that his final tally would be difficult to overtake. Yes, records are meant to be broken but one can only see Boucher’s tally standing as the world record for a very long time even with the proliferation of Test cricket.

Thrice voted South African Player of the Year (in 1998, 2000 and 2006) Boucher is the only player to make six dismissals thrice in an innings in a Test. He also still holds the world ninth wicket partnership record with Pat Symcox the two putting on 195 runs against Pakistan at Johannesburg in February 1998 in what was only his second Test match and his first on home soil. The real relevance of this feat lay not so much in its numbers but in the fact that it was pieced together with South Africa in deep trouble at 166 for eight. Such feats are typical of Boucher the fighter who is remembered both for starring in numerous rearguard actions as well as his acrobatic work behind the stumps. And with the end nowhere yet in sight one can only speculate on what his final tally of runs and dismissals will be.
 
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