Mark Boucher: Don’t think three formats in international cricket are sustainable

It’s been a month-and-a-half since Boucher moved on from the South Africa job and is currently gearing up for an Indian Premier League (IPL) head coach role with the Mumbai Indians.

Former South Africa and current Mumbai Indians coach Mark Boucher speaks during the SA T20 event in Mumbai.

Former South Africa and current Mumbai Indians coach Mark Boucher speaks during the SA T20 event in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

It’s been a month-and-a-half since Boucher moved on from the South Africa job and is currently gearing up for an Indian Premier League (IPL) head coach role with the Mumbai Indians.

When the South Africa team travelled to Australia for the T20 World Cup in Australia, the players and the team management believed that it had enough firepower to break the title jinx.

Led by Temba Bavuma, the Proteas were done in by rain in the Super-12 opener against Zimbabwe. However, South Africa climbed up to the top of Group 2 with wins over Bangladesh and India and needed to defeat The Netherlands in the last league fixture to make it to the semifinals.

But at the Adelaide Oval, a 13-run defeat against The Netherlands led to the Proteas crashing out of the tournament. While the players could not come to terms with yet another debacle, for head coach Mark Boucher, the defeat was the ‘worst’ of his tenure.

It’s been a month-and-a-half since Boucher moved on from the South Africa job and is currently gearing up for an Indian Premier League (IPL) head coach role with the Mumbai Indians.

In a conversation with  Sportstar, the former South Africa wicketkeeper-batter and coach touched upon what the team went through after the shock defeat and also shared his thoughts on Test cricket, his future as a coach and other aspects of the game.

How do you see the emergence of another franchise league - the SA20 next month? What does it mean for South African cricket?

Certain leagues that have been started up throughout the world from different countries wanting to try and get the best out of their system. I think this is no different to South Africa. We have also tried to start one or two leagues in the past, unfortunately maybe we will learn from the past mistakes.

Graeme coming in, I think the big thing for me is looking at the investors into these tournaments and the goal is to try and potentially make this the second biggest league in the world. So there’s good money coming in. We can see the talent that’s being picked by the six teams is great, so I think the cricket’s gonna be very good. For South Africa, we really wanted to try and improve our cricket system and bring in more money, which is what we really need. We’ve been through some tough times off late. So I think this is going to be a good competitive league.

The T20 World Cup was your last assignment as the coach of South Africa. After that defeat against The Netherlands, what was your message for the players? 

To be honest, there wasn’t much message. I have had conversations throughout the tournament with certain players. Everyone was devastated about what actually unfolded. The turnaround times of us actually losing and going out of the country and people going to different parts of the world. I had to fly to Los Angeles as well to go do some work. I have spoken to a couple of guys, and it wasn’t a nice time for anyone.

The Netherlands came up with a spirited performance to knockout South Africa in the T20 World Cup 2022.

The Netherlands came up with a spirited performance to knockout South Africa in the T20 World Cup 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

We expected a lot better of ourselves, which obviously didn’t happen. There’s so much competition in T20 cricket at the moment and leagues have given a chance for associate nations to be exposed to some top quality cricket. So it’s no surprise that some of the associate sides are beating your main Test playing nations. England lost to Ireland, Ireland is a very dangerous team. Thankfully for them (England), it happened earlier on, so they were able to pull it back and end up winning thecompetition.

Unfortunately, for us, we just didn’t work on that day, which was disappointing, and lost to a team that we think we probably should’ve beaten, especially in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. But yeah, history is history, there’s nothing much to say about it.

Going forward, do you think that associate teams should be given more opportunities to play with the top teams so that the standard of the game improves globally?

I can understand the motive of maybe wanting to do that, but at the moment there’s so much cricket. The leagues are really lucrative for players earning money, so I don’t see that stopping. International cricket, the schedules are ridiculous. I was coaching all three formats and I spent 250 days away from home, which is not ideal. So I am sure ICC would probably want to try and give these guys an opportunity to play the bigger nations, if you want to call them that but I just don’t see gaps in the schedule. Players are already talking about rest time and all that sort of stuff. Countries are playing their B teams, countries that can afford to do that with a dip.

England has done that, India has done that as well. Is that good for International cricket? Yes. But for me, international cricket is to see your top players playing for your country. The schedules are jam-packed at the moment so I would say that it would be nice to see them playing the bigger nations more often, I just don’t see how they are going to do it with the amount of cricket that’s going on at the moment. Potentially, in the future, you might see one of the formats falling away and that might give a window for what you’re talking about.

You mentioned that in the future, one of the formats could fall away. According to you, which format is likely to be scrapped?

Everyone’s saying it’s one-day cricket. It’s the most taxing on the body. It’s a format where it drags on for a long period of time. I know there’s a World Cup and everything, I love the format, it brings different strategies into it, but I just don’t think that three formats in international cricket are sustainable.

It’s just too much cricket that’s being played. T20 has changed the whole character of cricket, I think that’s something that will seriously continue and grow from strength to strength.

I’m a real traditionalist. I love Test cricket so, what I think probably doesn’t matter that much, but if it was up to me I’d keep T20 and Test cricket.

I do think in Test cricket there needs to be a time frame of three, three and half months where you can have a Test championship, where no T20 leagues are placed in between that period of time because you still want to see your best players playing the whole time, and for that three and half months there’s a Test World Cup and it’s in two-three countries that it gets played in and then you get the best Test cricketers playing continuously the whole time.

The biggest problem at the moment is that you might have played two Test matches and then six months later is your next Test match, which I don’t think is right. What else do Test cricketers do for the next six months? When they are in good form, you want them to continue that. So I don’t know, there’s a whole lot of different things that need to be looked at and hopefully, they’ll get it right.

So you’re saying the current World Test Championship format needs a re-look, needs to be more competitive and a set format of time.

Yes, there has to be a set format of time. Basically right now you play Test cricket and then you don’t play for a long period of time and then you gotta comeback, it doesn’t give batters and bowlers a chance to get into some sort of form. And also you’ve got guys who are leaving Test teams to go play in T20 competitions where you gotta look at the finances as well, there are certain countries who can’t afford to keep these guys playing Test cricket.

There are certain countries with players, it doesn’t matter to them if they can give away an IPL contract or the T20 contract because they are earning a lot of money but, there are some countries who don’t earn that much money, and for them to give up an IPL contract is incredibly difficult. They’ve also got their careers. And then you look after that and be looked after as well, so different decisions that different players and coaches have to make and they are all in different positions, so I think we need to respect that as well.

You spoke about Test cricket and its importance. But recently, there have been several instances of Test matches getting over in two or three days due to poor wickets. Also, teams like England have gone on to score 500-plus runs on the first day of the Test against Pakistan. Do you think that such instances eventually bring down the quality of the game in the longer format?

Test cricket has definitely evolved and it has evolved with the introduction of T20 cricket. Players, especially, batters have developed different shots and they are not scared to go out there, I think there’s no more fear involved. They are playing reverse sweeps. In the past when we were playing, and I went back that many years ago, if you got out playing reverse sweep, you would probably be frowned on. Nowadays, it’s part of the batters’ shot selection. You need the conditions to be able to play that way and England have really adopted a style through Brendon McCullum.

Mark Boucher along with Yuvraj Singh, Graeme Smith and Anil Kumble during the SA T20 event in Mumbai.

Mark Boucher along with Yuvraj Singh, Graeme Smith and Anil Kumble during the SA T20 event in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

They want to go out and be aggressive so the conditions need to be good for that. I mean, they won the toss on a good batting surface and that really put the Pakistan batting lineup under pressure. But that can also work the other way. You could lose a couple of wickets and get exposed. So, I think it’s just the general sort of way that the game of cricket is going. When teams now see a moment they can really put pressure on, they are not scared to go for that moment and when they go for that moment, they go with everything in.

I do think that’s the way Test cricket’s gonna go, which is exciting but with the batting, bowlers are going to have to start adopting as well and I think that will happen. I think any team that’s going to play against England, if it’s a flat wicket, they probably gonna have to understand that they need to win the toss. England has got the players to really go out there and play the aggressive nature that they want to, so if you’re gonna prepare wickets, and you got the home advantage, maybe a green top is the way to go against the English team and the way they are playing at the moment. But these are all decisions and strategies that teams are really gonna have to think hard about in the future if Test cricket is going that way.

With so much cricket happening, not just the players, even the coaching staff are being given frequent breaks these days. After the T20 World Cup, India’s head coach Rahul Dravid and his support staff were rested for the tour of New Zealand, leading to a lot of talks. Being a coach yourself, how do you see this?

Personally, I didn’t like taking a break. I always felt that my message going through to my players needs to be consistent and other coaching staff come through with their ideas, so you don’t wanna confuse players, you want to give proper role definition to certain players.

Unfortunately, with another coach coming in that might be something that gets mixed up a bit. But I can certainly understand the reasons why they would want to take a break. I think mentally, it’s always good if you’re coach is fresh, support staff. I gave my support staff a bit of time off, but I thought that’s something I wanted to do, stay as the head coach the entire time. But something’s gotta give, and something’s gotta suffer. Unfortunately for me, I missed a lot of my two young boys back home growing up. Thankfully, now I can give them a bit of time whenever I’m home. But it’s never nice to stay away from home. I don’t think it’s sustainable for any coach, coaching staff or player. Yes, a lot of staff are taking time off or break and management’s are no different.

The way they are speaking up about it, which is good. It’s high time that they do. Yeah, I’m all for staff taking breaks and management taking breaks along the way. Mentally I think it’s good for them. But me personally, I just didn’t wanna do that. I prefer to stay on, I’d rather give my support staff a break.

You will be returning to the IPL as the coach of the Mumbai Indians. Now that you will be working with Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar Yadav and so many youngsters, what are your plans?

It’s extremely exciting for me. I have been coaching now for quite a few years, I have had good franchise experience and international experience as well, but I also understand that it’s a completely different culture that I’m coming to in the IPL.

I have seen that before as a player, there’s now a new challenge as the coach to come and do that as well. So I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t been in the IPL for quite a few years so I know all the star cricketers that are coming out of India and also the players that we played from an international perspective, but I got to see a couple of videos of a couple of the youngsters around this area and it’s extremely exciting. There’s a lot of good youngsters coming in.

A guy like Kartikeya (Kumar Kartikeya) is a guy who bowls two different styles and that’s quite exciting. That’s an awesome skill set to have. So there are a lot of players that I’m looking forward to working with. I don’t think I can change much from a technical perspective in the IPL, I have just gotta try and to adapt to the culture as quickly as I can and try and give these guys the best environment to perform - whether it be putting together a strategy that we all bind to, giving them the space and understanding of what their roles are, giving them clarity over that - I think that’s going to be my biggest job and also having a bit of fun.

The IPL is fun, it’s high-level pressure cricket. There’s a lot of good hype around the IPL. I’m looking to have a bit of fun and help put the Mumbai Indians back where they belong, on the top.

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