Ian Bell: That blow to Mark Boucher was a real sickener

View From the Middle: A massive part of South Africa's success revolved around Boucher

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The Independent Online

During practice at the start of the one-day international season I was hit in the face by a ball. There was a bad gash, what turned out to be a fractured jaw and a lot of pain, and I thought I had no chance of playing the next day.

But it's amazing what 24 hours and a few painkillers can do. It feels fine now and maybe it helped me to clear my mind of all the other distractions that might have affected me on returning to the limited overs team.

I thought of this when I heard the dreadful news about Mark Boucher's retirement from the game, caused by the freak accident of being hit by a flying bail while he was keeping wicket in South Africa's opening match of their tour against Somerset.

Only four or five inches separated where we were hit. It's absolutely sickening and a real sad way for him to go out of the game. He's been an absolute great and not just because of those statistics which show that he has taken more catches than any other keeper. When you play against someone like Mark Boucher you know that you are always in for a fight.

With their batting line-up South Africa don't collapse too often but, on the rare occasions they have lost a few wickets quickly, he was the kind of guy who would come in and get them out of a hole. He was one of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen we have seen and probably will see in a long time.

He wasn't overly-aggressive with the verbals at all. But you got his body language and he was the centre of their bowling, their fielding. A massive part of the success South Africa have had revolved around him as a character and a player.

As one of the best keeper-batsman you could ever play against, he's clearly going to be a loss in the Test series starting next week. But there is a lot of quality in that side all the way through with bat and ball; they are experienced cricketers. I am sure that Graeme Smith will be in there saying, "Whatever we do we are going to do this for Mark Boucher". It may actually bring them closer as a group.

We should definitely be in a superb frame of mind after such a good run in the one-day series against West Indies and Australia. After winning 2-0 and 4-0, we did more or less everything that we could.

But it's back to the red-ball game now and I'm looking forward to playing a championship match before the Test series. It's not about how many runs or how long you bat for; I think it's a mind shift from playing one-day cricket for three or four weeks and getting into the rhythm of four-day and five-day cricket; leaving outside off stump and getting those routines right.

The white ball swings a bit upfront but it doesn't seem to do as much as the red ball and I have been opening in the one-dayers and now will be back to No 5 in the Tests, where I might have to go in and face a spinner straightaway. I think it helped when I played for the Lions before the opening match in the West Indies series.

It doesn't guarantee you runs in a Test match, of course, but I'm hoping it will get me that bit closer, and also with the weather we have been having I don't feel knackered or anything like that. It's optional: I just want the opportunity of batting in the middle one more time before facing the South Africans.