Mark Boucher is never going to be soft and cute and adorable like a llama, it’s just not his personality and he probably would not have been a great cricketer if he had been. As a coach, the players I have spoken to appreciate his straight-talking approach, but also say he is amazing at encouraging and growing cricketers.
Those coaching qualities have now been recognised on arguably the greatest international stage of all as he was announced on Friday as the Mumbai Indians’ new IPL head coach. Mumbai is not just India’s largest, richest city, it is also home to the IPL’s most successful franchise, having lifted the cup a record five times since 2013.
Boucher may yet turn out to be the prophet not recognised in his home town, but any unbiased examination of his three-year term in charge of the Proteas would acknowledge the tremendous strides the team have made since the utter shambles of 2019.
Yet it seems the most prolific wicketkeeper in the history of the international game still cannot win when it comes to certain segments of South African cricket.
His announcement that he would be moving on from the Proteas job after the T20 World Cup in Australia next month was greeted in some quarters by criticism that, having fought tooth and nail to stay in the job, he was now giving it up a year before his contract expires.
This is most unfair, but par for the course when it comes to criticising Boucher, who for some reason attracts a lot of illogical hatred.
The reason Boucher fought so hard to stay Proteas coach was not so much for the job, but because he was rightfully spitting mad that he was about to be fired for scurrilous allegations of racism. There can surely be no greater stain on a white South African’s name than being called racist?
So Boucher was pilloried for trying to clear his name – justice did prevail in that regard – and now gets accused of leaving the Proteas in the lurch.
Boucher knows that unless he wins a World Cup between now and the end of next year, he was never going to have his contract renewed. While there are much nicer people in charge at Cricket South Africa these days, there is still a significant lobby from the old guard that continues to infect the structures. There are still loud anti-Boucher voices, as we have seen his week.
Indian Premier League
So when the option to become a head coach in the most lucrative cricket league comes around, who in their right mind would not take it? Mumbai Indians have been through a lean spell over the last couple of years, so Boucher will be under pressure to get results. But it will strictly be pressure based on what happens on the field, and not the sort of political sideshows he had to deal with in South Africa.
That will be for his successor at the Proteas to now handle and there are good candidates waiting in the aisles.
There had been speculation that Boucher would land up in Cape Town as the head coach of the new Mumbai Indians franchise that is playing in the SA20. Given the amount of ill-feeling towards him that festers in that city, that would have been an intriguing turn of events.
It was interesting to hear Joburg Super Kings coach Eric Simons say this week that T20 has become the most tactical format of the game, the one that requires the most thinking. That flies in the face of some perceptions that it is just a bunch of gym bunnies trying to smash the ball out of the ground all the time.
Likewise, Boucher is perhaps misperceived as this hard-nosed coach who shouts at the players and believes in his way or the highway. In fact, the best work Boucher has done with the Proteas has probably been around freeing up their mindsets, encouraging them to think out of the box and pursue new strategies.
He seems a great fit for the IPL and I will be watching his progress with great interest.