De Villiers: Boucher was our rock

  • Last Updated: July 12 2012, 18:14 BST

AB de Villiers believes Mark Boucher, the "rock" of South Africa cricket for a generation, can still help them beat England from afar this summer.

AB de Villiers: Set to keep wicket against England

De Villiers is preparing to keep wicket in Boucher's place, in the first npower Test at The Oval at least, after the horrific and career-ending eye injury his long-time team-mate suffered at the start of South Africa's tour three days ago in Taunton.

Boucher is back home already, unable to take part in a three-match series between Test number ones England and their nearest pursuers South Africa.

He and a cricket world full of well-wishers can only hope he does not lose the sight in his left eye after being hit by a flying bail while keeping wicket against Somerset.

De Villiers is one of them, of course.

He is convinced too, even though Boucher will not be around after all to make his 150th Test appearance at Lord's or push his tally of wicketkeeping victims into four figures, that he will remain a valuable asset to his old team-mates as they take on England for the International Cricket Council's 'world title'.

"He's been an idol in South African cricket for many years; he's been a rock, the guy with the guts," said De Villiers, who will try to get his wicketkeeping back up to speed against Kent over the next three days in Canterbury - with a view to doing that job and batting in the middle order next week.

The 28-year-old, keeper in just a handful of Tests during the Boucher era, owes a personal debt of gratitude.

"He was someone who was there at the start of my career, who looked after me, took me under his wing, helped me a lot with my cricket," he said.

"I probably wouldn't be here without him. It's probably a big call but it's true - he's done a lot for my cricket.

"So not to have him here, it's a bit of an emotional thing - which I've sort of gotten over over the last few days. But yes, they are huge boots to fill."

Vice-captain De Villiers knows a big challenge lies ahead for him now.

"Obviously, he was if not the best then one of the best wicketkeepers in the world and I'm a little bit undercooked when it comes to Test cricket wicketkeeping," he added.

"But I'm looking forward to it if the gloves come my way in the Test matches. It's a challenge I'll take with both hands.

"It would be great to win (the series) and to give it up to him.

"I think he's inspired a lot of us over the years, and the whole country as well, so it's definitely a bit of extra motivation.

"With what has happened to Mark, it's an emotional rollercoaster we've all been through."

South Africa have called Thami Tsolekile into their squad as Boucher's official replacement, but De Villiers is working on the basis he will be required behind as well as in front of the stumps at The Oval.

Either way, he knows Boucher will be with him and the rest of Graeme Smith's team in spirit.

"When you walk out on the field, we're all professional enough to focus on the match," he said.

"But he will be in the back of our minds, no matter what.

"Even today in slip catching (practice), Smithy even called me 'Bouch'. I said, 'it's me now'. He said 'sorry about that'.

"He will be there in the back of our minds. But it's more for inspiration as much as anything else.

"He'll take us a long way to winning this series.

"I like him to be in the back of our minds, because I can tell him I'm keeping well when I'm out there, and the drills that he taught me over the years.

"So it's not a bad thing, as long as you don't get too emotional about it."

The South Africa tourists are in regular phone contact with Boucher, but do not need to speak to him to know he is right behind them against England.

"It's going to be a hard-fought battle out there," said De Villiers.

"It's always easy to talk when you're on top.

"I do have a few things to say to some of the guys that Mark would have said, and he's passed on a few things to say.

"He said 'Whatever happened to me is okay, but so long as you pass the messages on'. I said I'll do it.

"It's always played in good spirits and it's all about getting the momentum without going over the top when it comes to sledging.

"I think both teams respect each other a hell of a lot.

"We've both played some amazing cricket over the last couple of years, and it's going to be a really great series."