Cricket: Boucher the poucher turned game keeper

Test Match Diary
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The Independent Online
THERE can never have been a more aptly named wicketkeeper than the kid from the Eastern Cape. He is called Mark Boucher. Boucher the Poucher, that is. Watch for him at Headingley this week, flying through the air with the greatest of ease and ensnaring everything in his path.

When South Africa were searching for a new keeper (only the second since the end of isolation) to replace the estimable Dave Richardson, there were several contenders. The Poucher was some distance from being an automatic first choice. He was seen as a manufactured keeper and he got the job because he could bat and because he was young.

His introduction to Test cricket in England was unimpressive. The ball swung this way and that at Edgbaston and Boucher's dives made insufficient contact with the ball. Since when he has hardly stopped catching it. His catching is quite spectacular. He has taken a string of victims in front of slips with the ball likely to drop in front of them and at Trent Bridge he became the fastest wicketkeeper to capture 50 wickets in Test history.

If this says something for the South Africans' pace bowling attack it is still an immense achievement. The previous fastest to 50 (12 matches) were Richardson and the West Indian, Courtney Browne. Those you might have suspected are just behind them, Jeff Dujon, Rod Marsh and Alan Knott.

The mind's eye tells you that Dujon was always taking magnificent airborne catches off whatever pace quartet was in action but it took him 13 matches to get to 50. Marsh, of course, had that legendary pace duo known as Lillee and Thomson at his disposal but, in his early days, was also Iron Gloves, while even the great Knott might have been deprived of catches despite the presence of John Snow because West Indies and Australia provided the opposition in seven of his first 10 matches.

The Poucher, who left Trent Bridge with 51 victims (20 in the series) is now firmly on course to be the fastest to 100. For the moment that record is held by Richardson and the Australian keeper Wally Grout, who each took 24 matches. Marsh, incidentally, learning fast, did it in 25.

Boucher is only 21 and unless Ian Healy keeps going a while longer there is every chance that he will be the first keeper not only to 400 victims but to 500.

NOW that the boys in white have captured the imagination - and how - it may be necessary to relay information urgently about the other Test series. The England women's team start their three-match rubber against Australia at Guildford on Wednesday.

In the past the women's team has saved us all from deep humiliation - back in 1993 they beat Australia in a one-day match on the day the men surrendered the Ashes - but the auguries are not good. As it happens, they are so bad that they could cop as much flak as the men are accustomed to.

Australia have the world's most complete batswoman, Belinda Clark, the fastest bowler, Cathryn Fitzpatrick, and a fearsome leg spinner called Olivia Magno. England don't. Nor can England turn to precedent. Apart from the odd draw they have regularly been duffed up by the Aussies lately.

The last Test between the pair in Sydney early in February 1992 ended in an innings defeat for the English and when the Aussies last played a series here in 1987 they began with a crushing victory and won 1-0. True, back in 1984-85 England won one exciting match by five runs but it is 22 years since an English batsman scored a hundred against the Aussies (yes, it was Rachel Heyhoe-Flint) and England last won a series in 1963. The Ashes newly cindered at Lord's last week may not be coming home.

IT was to be noted during Sky's broadcast of the unfinished England Under-19 one-day international against Pakistan the other day that for all the satellite station's slickness, army of commentators and plethora of cameras they had the BBC Ceefax service on in their box. This is presumably an example of the spirit of co-operation we can look forward to in the future.

BOOKMARK

"HEADINGLEY, on the edge of Leeds, lacks the elegant distinction of Lord's, lacks, perhaps, the dignity of Trent Bridge, even the prosperity of Old Trafford, but it is a Yorkshire ground, a piece of the strong broadcloth of cricket...Recall Headingley and you recall cricket played hard. Other grounds may sometimes attract the imagination on flights away far from the game, but Headingley is concerned only with cricket and cricketers. Perhaps that is why the real cricketer appreciates Yorkshire applause more than any other: it is to be earned only by good cricket. What better qualification can there be for housing a Test match?"

From an essay, written in 1951, in The Essential John Arlott. And we must all fervently hope that its evocatively expressed sympathies are upheld by the crowd there this week and that they do have something to applaud.

Silly Point

THE good news for England's slow bowler, Ian Salisbury, is that Headingley has been the scene before of a decisive intervention by a leg spin bowler in a match between England and South Africa. In 1929 Tich Freeman (right), recalled to the side, had figures of seven for 115 and three for 92 as England won by five wickets. His second-innings haul did not include the South African centurion, Tuppy Owen-Smith, who would go on to play for and captain the England rugby team, appearing in the famous 1936 win over the All Blacks. The bad news for Salisbury is that Freeman took 12 for 171 in the next match at Old Trafford, which England also won, but went wicketless in the drawn Fifth Test and never appeared for England again. ends

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