Boucher leaves void in SA cricket
Fifteen years of South African cricket walked off the field with blood dripping from Mark Boucher's eye. His career was due to end on the Lord's field of dreams after 150 tests. Instead, Boucher walked off at a field locals call "a rural ground", in Taunton, with no more than 3500 people watching.
Boucher deserved a far better send-off, but fate stepped in and it was not kind.
Mark Boucher's cricket career is over. At first, this sentence read that it "could be over". The "could" was a shred of hope. When Graeme Smith read out Boucher's statement in Taunton, the hope had been sucked out the air, which turned colder as each word came out.
Boucher has given South Africa a lot of hope.
Through years of hard, competitive and unrelenting play, he became one of cricket's greatest fighters. Some of his teammates called what happened on Monday his biggest fight yet.
Exactly how much damage has been done to his left eye is not known yet, and probably will not be until at least a few days from now. He may not see again, which puts into perspective, as Kallis said, that the injury is not just about cricket.
The team and their manager, Mohammed Moosajee, understand that "Mark Boucher the person" rather than the cricketer, is what matters now.
The squad went straight to the hospital after play on Monday to be with Boucher before his operation and waited through it. Most of them left soon after, but Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis stayed behind longer. Moosajee spent the night at Boucher's bedside. Kallis did not return to bat on the second day of the tour match but spent time with Boucher at the hotel.
Before the series, Boucher was asked if he could be convinced to stay on for another tour, the end-of-year trip to Australia. It was like asking a kid if they want another ice cream. He said yes, but every indication he gave thereafter pointed to retirement in August after England.
He ended up having no choice in the matter, facing what he called an "uncertain" road to recovery and the possibility of not seeing out of that eye again. For 15 years to have ended in this way, rather than the grand hurrah Boucher had planned is Shakespearean in its tragedy.
Boucher has not gone quietly into that good night. He has left behind a legacy of spirit and fire that will continue to influence the South African game for generations to come. He has left behind a hole that will not be easily filled. For good and bad, and there are both, he was part of the soul of the Proteas for 15 years. That soul will now require some serious healing, which has to start as soon as Friday in the second tour match.