Sad day for Boucher
Protea teammates rallied round Mark Boucher yesterday when it became known that the illustrious career of their talismanic wicketkeeper had been brought to a sudden, tragic end.
He had been in line for his 150th test cap in the third test at Lord's in August, and was one away from 1000 dismissals over an international career spanning 15 years.
Having kept wicket to some of the game's greatest pace bowlers with unflinching bravery in all of the game's arenas, the end came with an innocuous delivery on a grey day at Taunton on Monday.
Proteas spinner Imran Tahir bowled out Somerset's No9 Gemaal Hussain and a bail was dislodged violently, spinning up and rupturing Boucher's left eyeball. The 35-year-old keeper had two and a half hours of surgery on Monday night in a battle to save his sight.
Team manager Mohammed Moosajee said the damage was "serious and extensive" and the prognosis was uncertain.
Whatever happens, Boucher has drawn a line under his career and formally retired.
As Boucher lay in agony in his hotel, his teammates came forward with a statement read out by his friend and captain Graeme Smith in the lunch break at Taunton yesterday.
"You have been more than a performer, you have been a motivator, an inspirer, an energiser . 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. We wish you a good-as-possible recovery from your injury," Smith said.
The Proteas now face a massive battle to regroup and get their minds right for the first test against England next Thursday.
Smith and coach Gary Kirsten acknowledged that before the team could prepare for the test series, they needed to come to terms with the situation.
"Right now, we are worried about Mark and getting him through this difficult situation," said Smith. "He is at the hotel recovering and dealing with circumstances as best as he can."
Jacques Kallis added: "It's not about cricket anymore, it's about one of your mates, and hoping that he recovers well."
Smith said that Boucher had urged the team to get on with the game and sent his wishes. In a statement the bitterly disappointed keeper said: "I wish the team well as I head home on to a road of uncertain recovery."
"We are a very professional team," said Smith, "but we need to deal with the emotion initially and then build for the first test. That is what Mark would have wanted us to do."
Kirsten added: "We do need to move forward, but we also need to reflect on the emotion and deal with it. The guys need to process this emotion and then get on with what is a very important tour."
Boucher, though, will be irreplaceable, said Smith. "I can't imagine not seeing him there, squatting behind the stumps. It is so difficult to sum it up, but if you add all his stats to what kind of person he was, he will go down as one of the greatest in the game, certainly the greatest in South African cricket."
The selectors will name a replacement today, although Kirsten confirmed that AB de Villiers would keep wicket in the first test. The selectors, however, have held off naming a replacement, although it is expected that Thami Tsolekile will be the most likely candidate.
SCORES IN BRIEF
Somerset 312/8 decl. (P Trego 104, J Hildreth 100; L Tsotsobe 3/46) and 50/1.
SA 282/9 decl. (H Amla 64, JP Duminy 53; C Overton 3/59). Match drawn.