Determined Boucher was one to rally the troops
South Africa lost one of its most prized cricketing assets when Mark Boucher was forced to call time on his cricket career, writes Nickolaus Bauer.
This after a freak accident that might cost him the sight in his left eye.
Already in the twilight of his career, a stray bail to his eye during a warm-up match against Somerset in Taunton, robbed Boucher of his swansong in the international arena.
The white of Boucher's left eye was slashed after a stray bail ricocheted into it as tail-ender Gemaal Hussain was bowled by Imran Tahir.
With 147 Test appearances, the Proteas talisman fell agonisingly short of 1 000 international dismissals, ending on 999 with 555 scalps coming from the five-day game.
Streets ahead of any of his peers, with his nearest competitor Adam Gilchrist only managing to rack up 416, Boucher will go down in history as being in a class of his own.
It was not a career marked by an abundance of natural talent and individual brilliance but rather punctuated by dogged determination and a razor-sharp will to succeed.
The epitome of the adage "practice makes perfect", he would often be seen running through countless sets of wicketkeeping drills, long after his teammates had hit the showers.
But, the Proteas lost more than just a wicketkeeper when doctors ruled out any prospect of recovery in time for the first Test against England at the Oval next week.
His teammates, past and present, will attest to Boucher being the heartbeat of the team and when they needed a boost, or were faced with an impossible challenge, he would be the one to rally the troops to order.
"He was a man who brought out the best in people. Boucher led his teammates in a special way that was never overpowering or demeaning, but he was always in control," said former Proteas seamer, Makhaya Ntini, who starred alongside Boucher in the Proteas for 11 years.
In his short, stocky frame, Boucher packed a special type of competitiveness and aggression that lasted throughout his 15-year career behind the stumps for South Africa.
Right from the start of his Test career in 1997 against Pakistan in Sheikhupura, Boucher could always be counted on to provide the resolve to see the Proteas through any tight spot – either behind the stumps or with bat in hand.
There was a reason Boucher became the first – and possibly the only player for the foreseeable future – to bag 500 catches in Test cricket.
As a batsman, he lived for the big occasion – whether it was a quick 30 or 40 that was needed to secure a victory, or the vital session spent at the crease to hold out for a draw.
Perhaps his most outstanding innings came when he smashed an unbeaten 50 to see South Africa to the massive total of 438 for 9, for a penultimate one-day international victory against Australia at the Wanderers in March 2006.
Almost hardly worth mentioning is Boucher's South African record for the fastest ODI century and the world ninth-wicket Test match partnership record with Pat Symcox.
Boucher has left a massive void in in terms of finding a suitable replacement to fill his gloves.
AB de Villiers has already ostensibly replaced Boucher as wicketkeeper in the limited-overs form of the game, but the Proteas would be hesitant to call on one of their star batsmen to fill the role in the Test arena on a permanent basis as well.
Although Thami Tsolekile will join the squad ahead of the three-Test series, he is unlikely to play in next week's opening match.
"Thami has done very well with both the Lions and South Africa A for a couple of seasons, culminating in his South African record eight catches in an innings this past week," said the Cricket South Africa selection convener Andrew Hudson.
Tsolekile's call has come as no surprise as he was given a national contract earlier in 2012 – the first time since 1998 the Proteas have kept a reserve keeper in the wings.
Tsolekile is experienced, with three Test caps, all of which came in 2004 when Boucher was unavailable, as well as 132 first-class appearances under his belt.
But questions remain over his ability to deliver consistently with the bat after his recent meagre offerings for the Lions and South Africa A.
With no half centuries to his name in the last 10 outings to the crease speaks to this worry and the Proteas cannot expect Tsolekile to seamlessly step into Boucher's role..