For as long as I’ve loved cricket, I’ve always been a passionate supporter of the South African national team, also known as the Proteas. I remember watching people like Alan Donald and David Richardson playing before the mid-2000’s transition to players such as Graeme Smith and Ntini.
Among that group of players was a young guy by the name of Mark Boucher, South Africa’s wicketkeeper.
Actually, he was never my favourite player. I always loved watching the more top order batsmen like Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs or exciting players like Jonty Rhodes. However, one thing about Mark Boucher was that he was always very consistent as a wicketkeeper and usually very solid when called upon as a batsman in time of need. He was a guy that more often than not was there for the team.
In fact, just a few years ago, he played a pivotal role in helping South Africa beat a world record run chase. On 12th March 2006, Australia batted first in the one-day international game and scored a world record total of 434 runs in 50 overs. By any standard, that’s a ridiculous total to try and chase in one-day cricket, let alone test-match cricket where teams would have a better chance of scoring such a total.
In that game, Herschelle Gibbs did most of the work, scoring 175 runs, while the rest chipped in here and there. However, once Gibbs got out, wickets began to fall at the wrong time. The rest of the incoming batsmen seemed to be getting out too quickly and the run chase began to turn into something less and less achievable. However, Mark Boucher was the man who stood his ground and saw them through. With just two balls remaining and with only one wicket in hand, Mark Boucher hit a four and South Africa won the game in dramatic fashion, finishing with a total of 438 runs. You can watch the highlights of the South African innings of that game here:
Throughout the years of course, Mark Boucher got older and over time, was eventually getting replaced by current captain AB De Villiers. However, late last year he was recalled on tour to England with the Proteas, which I thought was great. Then, during one of the practice matches before their first test-match against England, it happened.
When I read the news and saw the photos my heart just sank. It was supposed to be his final playing tour before retirement and it had to end in such a sad sad way. As the batsman was bowled and the ball hit the stumps, the bails flew up and hit Mark Boucher right in the left eye. The moment I read it, although not my favourite player, I just felt so so sorry for him.
Later on, it was confirmed he was diagnosed with a lacerated eyeball, and underwent major surgery. Speaking several weeks later after the ordeal, he shared a little of his suffering, “I have lost the lens, iris and pupil in my left eye. There was severe damage to my retina. I have had two major operations and four blood draining operations in the past three weeks and physically, at times, I have been in a lot of pain.
I accept that the healing process is a long one and that attaining some vision in my left eye will take some time and a lot of patience.”
In another statement, he mentioned, “I'm not in any pain at the moment. It's a little bit uncomfortable, but there's no pain. The worst kind of pain was after the first operation. I was told that it wouldn’t be painful. It was meant to take an hour, but it took four and a half hours. There was some blood on my cornea and they had to sand-paper it away. I was drugged up, though.”
Nonetheless, Mark Boucher has had a great playing career and I’m sure very good statistics to his name. More than that, he was someone very special to his team mates and coaches. There were plenty of messages and solidarity in support of Mark Boucher. The South African team was emotional in the changing room. It was clear, even if not a captain, he was someone very influential for the Proteas. However, that’s not what caught my attention the most. It was actually his response to his career ending injury.
Well firstly, came Boucher’s self-heart breaking statement that captain Graeme Smith had to read out on behalf because he was being flown back to South Africa, “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 prepared for this UK tour as well, if not better than I have prepared for any tour in my career. I had never anticipated announcing my retirement now, but circumstances have dictated differently. I have a number of thank yous to make to people who have made significant contributions during my International career, which I will do in due course. 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. 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.”
Within less than 24 hours, dealing with something happened that would end your career and being able to come up with a statement takes a fair bit of courage and patience. He didn’t blame anyone for the incident, no anger at all, and just a lot of gratitude for the people around him.
What was better though, was when he showed his resolve to move on from what happened and not let the past get to him, “I don't want people to feel sorry for me. Injuries happen and this could have happened earlier on in my career. I am incredibly grateful for the length of career that I have had and the amazing things I have experienced and people I have met during that time. This is just another challenge in my life and something that I will be working to overcome.”
I don’t know how the average observer would look at it, but in my opinion, when you’re involved in something your whole life that you’ve been passionate about but have been forced out of it by unforeseen circumstances or uncontrollable elements, its very hard to take in. For us, sports may just seem like sports. To the people who do sports professionally, its their livelihood.
While I never hope to be put into such a situation, if I am, I hope that I’ll be able to respond the same way this Proteas faithful did.
ESPNCricinfo Mark Boucher Photo Gallery
ESPNCricinfo Article 1
ESPNCricinfo Article 2
The Times UK
Daily Mail UK