SOUTH AFRICA TOUR IN ENGLAND, 2022
Mark Boucher will know a thing or two about playing in England ©Getty
A previous South African team’s mission was completed 40 days less than 10 years ago, when Vernon Philander’s signature delivery – the seam grinning slyly as the ball strayed a bit at a pace that ambushed the reader as surely as a well-tied, handled fly would fool a fish – took Steven Finn’s batting edge.
The ball curved gently in the electrified air towards the second slide, where it fell into the hands of Jacques Kallis. Work done. World domination had been achieved an hour after fifth-day tea at Lord’s. Civilians know it as August 20, 2012.
The South Africans, led by Graeme Smith and coached by Gary Kirsten, had arrived in England knowing they had to win the series to annex the No.1 ranking and claim the home Test mass. The 2022 version of the team, led by Dean Elgar and coached by Mark Boucher, moved into first place with Sri Lanka’s innings victory over Australia in Galle, which was completed on Monday.
Some things change: the prize is no longer a ranking or a mass but a place in the final of the Test World Championship, which will be contested by the two best teams in the ranking on March 31, 2023. Other things do not change: The 2012 Tour began in Taunton, just as the 2022 Adventure did on Tuesday with a white ball tour match.
It’s impossible to put Boucher and Taunton’s name on the same page without being struck again by the cold, hard truth of what happened to him on the same pitch on July 9, 2012 – 43 days before the mace changed course. hands. Time ran in the frozen moments before and after Imran Tahir beat Gemaal Hussain in the middle of matchday one.
For a moment Boucher was crouched behind the stumps. The next day, his career was over. He was on his knees and on his elbows, gloves covering his face, writhing in agony. For the first and only time in his life as a public figure, he looked vulnerable. A player who would expressly, in his own words, “walk the pitch like you own the place” was about to be escorted away, never to return. The ball had thrown the bail from the right-hander’s leg side into Boucher’s unprotected face, its violence knocking him down. The white of his left eye was lacerated, permanently robbing him of half his sight.
Boucher was 37 years old. He had played 147 tests, 295 ODIs and 25 T20Is. In what became his last 20 completed Test innings, he passed 50 on three occasions – including a 95 from 118 balls which was instrumental in South Africa’s victory over England at the Wanderers in January 2010. There were grumblings that by this stage he had suffered 34 dismissals without scoring a century. But in those 34 innings, he had only hit higher than No. 7 twice, when he took guard at No. 6.
Even so, the 2012 England series was to be the last hurray for a player who was a major figure in the evolution of South African cricket in that era: always uncompromising, often brutal, sometimes destructive. The alarming dangers of implementing this flawed philosophy were exposed at the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings last year. It appeared that the ugliness was also aimed at South Africa’s own players, who were mistreated by their teammates in various ways. Some of these behaviors were racist. Boucher was both an aggressor and, although less seriously because he was and is a white man in a white supremacist, drug-addicted society, a victim in that culture.
Partly because he has cultivated an image of being unassailable, partly because it suits some of his attackers to cast him as the embodiment of many evils not just of South African cricket but of wider issues from a country still plagued by the realities of racism, Boucher’s humanity is not often considered or even acknowledged. For some, he has become less a person than a symbol. And therefore held either as a bastion against the imagined revival and, simultaneously, as a standard-bearer for South Africa’s underground but virulent and real racism.
He is neither. But perhaps that’s why the relevant fact that he was back at the scene of his dramatic demise as a player for the first time since 2012 was never mentioned at a press conference by 15 minutes Monday.
No doubt Boucher was happy about it. Someone who has staked everything, at the apparent expense of anything, on projecting square-jawed strength doesn’t mean weakness. But there is no doubt that his experience in 2012, as much as the SJN hearings and their fallout – the disciplinary hearing against him that never took off – would have shaped the person Boucher has become to the point of a symbol of this that it represents, for some, remains intact.
“A lot of our lads have played a lot of cricket here recently,” he told Monday’s presser, referring to members of the current squad’s professional alliances with English cricket. “So our lads are no strangers to those terms. We’ll have a few of them stand up and talk about the pressures of what it’s like to play in England.”
Boucher himself will have much to say. He played in 52 Test series, of which South Africa won 32 and lost just 10. Three of those were in England between 1998 and 2008 when South Africa lost, draw and win. He knows a lot about winning, but also about losing, and about losing more than cricket matches. And, also, about some personal business left unfinished for an hour after lunch in Taunton on July 9, 2012.