Book review: 'Bouch: Through my eyes'

For Boucher, his life and outlook changed when that bail struck his eye in Taunton in 2012, just three matches away from his 150th Test and retirement. His 'bubble' was broken and the real world flooded in.

When Mark Boucher replaced David Richardson as South Africa's wicketkeeper in 1997, at the age of 21 and still learning the ways of the gloves, all and sundry were quick to point out that Nic Pothas 'should' have been the chosen one.

Boucher himself was one of those people, and boarded the plane to Pakistan as an injury replacement with fear in his heart, hoping Pothas wouldn't be too cross with him for getting called up. One senior player quickly told Boucher of his impending doom, and predicted a career of second-hand car sales.

Fast forward 15 years and 147 Tests, and Boucher left the international stage as the most successful 'keeper in Test history, and the only stump guardian to record more than 500 dismissals in the format. But that didn't mean much to him at the time.

For Boucher, his life and outlook changed when the bail struck his eye in Taunton in 2012, just three matches away from his 150th Test and retirement, which had been a year in the planning already. His 'bubble' was broken and the real world flooded in.

Speaking to <i>Cricket365</i> exclusively, Boucher explains the reasoning behind the book, and his intention to show young sportspeople that being brutally honest at all times, and living life inside a cocoon, do not a fulfilled character make.

'Bouch' says: "The reason why I wrote the book was to get some stories out, and maybe give back to the game. That's my way of giving back, not only from a cricketing perspective, but also as an international sportsman.

"I speak about the 'bubble' quite a bit, and team dynamics, and hopefully guys who maybe see themselves as I was can learn from that mistake. 'Because Mark has pointed this out, maybe there is a different way of speaking to team-mates.'"

When reading the book, which is a lot funnier than you'd imagine given Boucher's 'gritty and tough' image as a player, it is striking that it starts and ends with Taunton. Even the cover and the title hark back to the fateful injury, and that is intentional.

He continues: "I mention in the book about maybe having lost sight but gained vision. I think once that injury happened to me, that's when my eyes really opened, and I don't know if I would have written a book before the injury.

"I think through what happened to me, I probably realised a few things, my bubble was burst and I was at a low point. But then I decided to try and be positive about the whole thing.

"It's a story about a person who, 'Yes, I had this one type of character when I played cricket, and then that bubble was burst.' And then I had a story to tell because it opened my thinking across life."

One of the major changes in his thinking, even before the injury, was the softening of his approach to criticism and confrontation, which he says needed to happen. If he'd written the book without the injury, the reaction to the aforementioned team-mate (no spoilers here, sorry), and other slights would have been less than pretty.

He adds: "Looking back on it now, thankfully I didn't write the book at the time because it (anger) would have come through a lot harder. Looking back at my career, I've learned to calm down a bit and try manage a situation a lot better.

"I've still told those stories because they are part of my career, and things that I think need to be said, but the book wasn't written in the attitude of, 'I'm going to get everything out there.'"

Another reason for his mellowing with age is the influence of BFF and premier all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who contributes numerous inserts in the book, as well as a 'forward'. From the get-go, Kallis is referred to as 'Jacques' and it's assumed readers will know to whom is being referred.

It's refreshing to read a memoir driven not by rivalry and dressing room scandals (Bouch: "There are certain things that don't need to be said. My personal opinion is that things that happen in the dressing room are not for other people.") but by friendship, unashamedly so.

Of Kallis' influence on his temperament, Boucher explains: "He's a brother I never had. It's funny how our whole relationship worked. We didn't enjoy each other in the beginning, and then it moved on to becoming very close and he's a massive part of my life now.

"We've got a couple of business ventures together and stuff. The thing is, it's strange. We're so different and yet we're the same. I've learned from him, I've softened up a lot because of Jacques.

"I was always the type of guy to treat people the way I want to be treated, and maybe I came across as a bit too harsh because I knew that I could handle it if someone did it to me. But he taught me, being quieter, that maybe there's a different angle to approach someone."

One of the pleasing aspects of the book, aside from the structure provided by 'ghost' writer Neil Manthorp, is the addition of other voices. From doctors to coaches to team-mates, their opinions and views of a situation make for a less 'Me, me, me' feel.

Overall, the book is a glimpse into the mind of someone with many interests and opinions, and there are few cricket subjects not touched upon. From Hansie Cronje's fall from grace (a must-have mention for any player of this era), to the IPL, to transformation policies, and being called a 'choker', Boucher touches on it all.

And then, 'the end is the beginning'. These days, Boucher can be found either in a TV studio as a pundit (Bouch: "I don't care what people say, I am biased towards South Africa and people probably understand why. I understand the growth of the game in this country and I can speak confidently about cricket.") or on the golf course.

But most notable/media-grabbing is his work with the SAB Boucher Foundation with regards to rhino and wildlife conservation. It's his passion and his saving grace, and he says: "It gave me a focus.

"Wildlife conservation is a passion of mine, and having lost my one passion, it was easy to move into the next one and put my energy into that. It definitely did help, and it was something I was grateful for."

The book is informative without being clogged with stats (they're at the back in a separate section), funny and self-deprecating, and frustratingly sad in parts, where you feel gutted for him, but also impressed by his resilience.

<u><b>Quickfire five-for</b></u>

<b>1: Dream golfing venue and ideal four-ball:</b> Does it have to be golfers? I love taking money off Jacques, so he has to be there. Doug Worth, a mate of mine who's always good value. And Warren Boyd, another good mate. As for the course, Leopard Creek is the one I would go to. It's by far the best course I have played on.

<b>2: Favourite cricketing venue:</b> Newlands. Because having played quite a few games here, it ended up being my home ground. And also the New Year's Test. Most South African cricketers would say the New Year's Test is the best one to play in. And it's also being able to wake up at home with my family around