Cow Corner

Cricket pays tribute to South Africa’s ‘warrior’

It was not supposed to be this way. South Africa stalwart Mark Boucher had trained and prepared vigorously for what he intended to be his final Test series, but things turned out very differently.

The talismanic wicketkeeper was forced to announce his retirement from international cricket a day after undergoing eye surgery following a severe injury which he sustained during his side's tour match against Somerset at Taunton.

Boucher suffered a laceration to his left eyeball after being struck by a bail, and underwent a lengthy two-and-a-half hour operation just hours afterwards.

A spinning delivery dislodged the wooden bail which then flew into the face of the 35-year-old, who was forced to leave the field with blood coming from his eye. It immediately looked serious, and he was promptly whisked away to hospital.

The fact that Boucher's injury is a huge blow to the tourists ahead of a huge series with top-ranked side England is entirely irrelevant and besides the point. Every cricket lover simply had concern for his well-being and was deeply saddened by the way his career had to end.

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith read out a statement from Boucher, but also took the opportunity to add a tribute on behalf of his squad of players, describing his former team-mate as "a warrior".

"Bouch, we have walked a long road together, and we are saddened to part under these circumstances," he said. "For the 14 years of your international career, you have been a true Proteas warrior, a patriotic South African, a fighter who asks 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 energizer… 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 team remains with us. We wish you a good as possible recovery from your injury. As we bid you a farewell as an international cricketer and wish you well for your future, we keep you as a friend and respected Proteas warrior."

Boucher's statement read: "It is with sadness, and in some pain, that I make this announcement. Due to the severity of my eye injury, I will not be able to play international cricket again. I had never anticipated announcing my retirement now, but circumstances have dictated differently.

"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," he added. "I am deeply touched by all the well wishes. I wish the team well in the UK, as I head home and onto a road of uncertain recovery."

It was a tragic way for such a distinguished career to end, in such abrupt and unexpected fashion.

Boucher made his Test debut in 1997 and played 147 Tests for South Africa, becoming the first wicketkeeper to take 500 catches in test cricket. He ended with 555 dismissals.

An accomplished and gutsy right-handed middle-order batsman, he also scored five Test centuries and averaged 30, providing steel and determination to back up the frontline batsmen.

His Test record 555 dismissals will stand for a considerable time to come. Of the current players in international cricket, the next is Mahendra Singh Dhoni with 220, putting his achievement in perspective.

Boucher had been seeking to move past 1000 dismissals in all forms of international cricket, and is left on 999 - 998 as wicketkeeper, one as an outfielder. 555 came in Tests, while 444 were taken in limited-overs cricket. If he wants to count the 1000th dismissal, he might point to his one Test wicket - he had Dwayne Bravo caught in a 2005 Test.

He also holds the record for the second fastest century in ODIs - a remarkable 147 against Zimbabwe in 2006-7.

This tour to England was set to be his final duty for South Africa and the Lord's Test would have been his 150th appearance. It was rightly considered to be a perfectly fitting way for one of the game's toughest competitors to end his career, but in the end it was not to be.

Coach Gary Kirsten said AB de Villiers would take the gloves for the first Test at The Oval after adding his own tributes, and no one would suggest that it will be easy for the tourists in Boucher's absence. The statements from the Proteas make it very clear, however, that they will be playing for their former team-mate and with real emotion.

Cowers will remember Boucher the cricketer for his courageous, wholehearted displays and commitment for playing for his beloved South Africa.

It will be impossible for South Africa to replace him with his character and considerable experience and expertise. His record stands for itself.

Tributes to Boucher from the cricket world (via Twitter):

BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew: "Terribly sad way for Mark Boucher's career to end. A great servant for South African cricket."

South Africa cricketer, Albie Morkel: "(Boucher) Not the way we wanted you to go!! Well done on a great career.. Good luck with your recovery! We there for you! #BouchSAlegend."

Cricket South Africa CEO, Jacqes Faul: "Boucher has been a great servant of the game, unique talents like his come once a generation. He will never be forgotten."

Editor-in-chief of Wisden India, Dileep Premachandran: "Take a bow, Mark Boucher. What a career. Finishes on 999 dismissals in international cricket. Will that ever be beaten?"

Editor of The Cricketer, Andrew Miller: "What a god awful way to retire from international cricket. Farewell Mark Boucher and a swift recovery."