Goodbye, but not farewell: Mark Boucher honoured at Newlands
For the first time since Mark Boucher was forced into retirement through injury last year, he candidly spoke to the press at Newlands on Saturday. From helping with rhino poaching to potentially striking up a role with Cricket South Africa, Boucher’s future is looking bright. By ANT SIMS.
Even though “goodbye” is thought be derived from “God be with you”, saying goodbye always seems like such a permanent fixture - usually accompanied by tears, a lot of sniffing and bowed heads. It’s a grim thing.
But there was none of that when Mark Boucher finally had his chance to bid adieu to cricket fans and his teammates on the world stage on Saturday. During the interval on day three, he was presented with one of the shirts worn by the team when they toppled England from the top of the Test rankings last year. He got to say a few words while he stood on the outfield of Newlands, and was then ushered into a press conference in the media box.
It was the first time the former South African spoke so candidly about what he had been through and how his recovery was going. He spoke about blood being drained form his eye and blood being sand-papered from his cornea without even flinching.
A horrific injury in a warm-up match against Somerset forced Boucher into early retirement last year. Imran Tahir landed a googly which caused a bail to ricochet into Boucher’s eye. The injury was severe and he called curtain immediately.
A few months and a large chunk of operations later, and Boucher is doing much better.
"Whenever I'm asked how my eye is doing, I tell them it's like looking through binoculars that aren't focused. I haven't got a lens in at the moment, so it's hard to tell how much vision there is and how much I'll get back,” Boucher said.
“They did a test on the retina and that test showed 50% vision. That doesn't mean I'm going to get all of that back, but the doctors are very happy with the results. I've got another three or four operations left throughout the year. Hopefully by the end of the year I'll be able to tell people what kind of vision I have,” he added.
Having at least some vision projecting is good progress for Boucher, who was initially told he would never be able to see out of that eye again. But the full extent of vision loss will only be known after he has gone through all his operations.
“When it first happened, I was told I'd lose all vision from my eye. I got back to South Africa and my doctor told me that even though it was bad, it wasn't that bad. I can see colours and shape at the moment, but without a lens, I won't know,” said Boucher.
While many remained hopeful that Boucher might be able to return to some form of playing in future, he says his time playing competitive cricket is over and he will have to stay patient with the recovery process.
“I'll never play cricket again. I'm enjoying my golf too much,” he joked.
“I have to be patient with the healing process, and even though I'm not really a patient person, it's just something I've got to do.”
The injury is enough to make anybody flinch, but Boucher says he’s not experiencing any pain at the moment, although there is some discomfort at times.
“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,” Boucher recalled.
The stresses from upcoming surgery aside, being forced to retire after serving the country for such a long time could well have been the most difficult decision for the a veteran player to make, yet Boucher insists it was one of the easier things.
"I sat down with Paddy Upton, Jacques and Graeme. I knew the eye was seriously damaged. I was always going to retire, so it was an easy decision make. I didn't want to go out that way but it could have happened at the beginning of my career and I wouldn't have been able to play so many matches for South Africa. I have got no hurt over it at all."
Boucher was a scrapper, and while he is sorry he’ll never again experience hitting the winning runs for his country, he has found a new purpose: working to save rhinos. Together with South African Breweries, he has launched a conservation project in which aims to raise fund to register rhinos, an endangered animal, on a national DNA database so they can be tracked down if poached.
"We are trying to raise a million Rand to give to a veterinary lab," Boucher explained. "It's like the CSI of the bush. You find a horn and you find a poacher and you can put the two together for DNA and you can then prosecute on that."
Back on the cricket field, Boucher has spent some time with both short-format keeper Quinton de Kock and Test keeper AB de Villiers, not necessarily to improve their game from tactical or technical point of view, but more just to shepherd them a little bit.
"AB has been keeping really well. I don't think AB needs a lot of work, it's just about the mental side of things," he said. "With Quinton, I spent two sessions just talking with him. I was helping not only with keeping, but talking to guys, because it's a young side, that one-day side. You won't see me talking to the Test guys - they can look after themselves.”
Boucher does hope to carve a more permanent role with Cricket South Africa in the future, and although nothing formal has been set up, talks are ongoing.
"I haven't spoken to anyone properly with anyone yet, but I would love to do work with them. Gary asked me to look at a couple of the keepers around the country and hopefully I can work with Cricket South Africa. If I can give back to the game, I would love to. There's nothing formal yet, but talks are happening,” Boucher said.
To get somebody of Boucher’s stature involved in the game at domestic level would be a blessing for South African cricket, and to see him looking relaxed and content after the trauma he has been through was a relief.
The tribute at Newlands over the weekend certainly wasn’t goodbye, then. Rather, it was a wish to fare well until he returns to share some of his knowledge with the future prospects of South African cricket. At least by the looks of things from the sidelines, Boucher is faring well. And he will be back. DM
Photo: South Africa's Mark Boucher looks down as he leaves the ground after being bowled out by New Zealand's Mark Gillespie on day two of the second international cricket test match in Hamilton March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Nigel Marple