National selection convenor Andrew Hudson owes Mark Boucher a beer. What was looming as the most difficult decision of his tenure so far has now been made for him.
The problem of who replaces the most successful international wicket keeper of all time still remains emphatically unsolved – but at least Hudson and his fellow selectors won’t have to call time on Boucher’s career after the 35-year-old effectively mapped out his own exit strategy this week.
“Both Gary and Graeme have spoken about their desire to take an experienced team to England later in the year to defend the Basil d’Oliveira test trophy and I would love to be in that squad, but only if I am still performing and worthy of my place on merit, not reputation,” Boucher said after his inclusion in the test squad to tour New Zealand.
“If I am selected to tour England, then I intend to make that my final tour with the national team. After that it will be time for someone else to take over the gloves and for me to focus on the next stage of my life. “
It was not a decision taken lightly. Quite the opposite. Having made his debut as a 19-year-old against Pakistan in Sheikupura in October 1997, Boucher has been virtually ever present for the last 16 years. It is the only life he has known.
“I still feel as confident and comfortable with the bat and gloves as I ever have. If I did not then I would have stepped away from international cricket as soon as I thought I couldn’t maintain the standards I’ve always set for myself,” he said.
In truth, however, he never fully recovered from the disappointment of being omitted from the ODI squad and missing last year’s World Cup, and the mounting criticism and questioning of his place in the test team may have started to wear him down. Not that he was admitting that this week – certainly not publicly.
“I’m as proud as ever to play for my country and I’m extremely grateful for the faith shown in me by Gary and the selectors, and I fully intend to repay that faith in New Zealand.
“Like all sportsmen I know that my playing career can’t go on forever and that a successor to me must be found for the test team, and I would like to help with that process, whoever the selectors believe that should be.”
The Cobras’ Dane Vilas has grabbed attention recently with some outstanding batting but stalwarts Daryn Smit (Dolphins), Heino Kuhn (Titans) and Thami Tsolekile (Lions) all have strong and legitimate claims to be given a chance at becoming Boucher’s successor.
But for the man they nicknamed ‘Guinness’ during the early part of his career because he broke so many records (his current test haul of 544 victims is almost certain never to be overhauled), it is now all about going out with a bang.
“Right now I’m just focussing all my energy on playing the best test cricket of my life over the next six months and finishing on a high, perhaps even with the No 1 ranking. Hopefully there are still plenty of runs and catches to come. There’s certainly still plenty of life left in this cricketer and I want people to remember me for all the right reasons.”
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