For year upon cricket year, Mark Boucher's scowling presence was synonymous with the South African side. The importance of his contributions varied but he was simply always there, and his team will, in the short term, be physically and psychologically diminished by his absence.

With his great friend Jacques Kallis, Boucher was one of the last two survivors of the Hansie Cronje era and an integral figure in the re-establishment of South African cricket in the years which followed his captain's fall. His qualities weren't showy, or elaborate, or refined, but they were genuine and vital: grit and bristling determination, allied to the valuable ability to take catches or make runs when the pressure was at its most intense.

The Lord's farewell will not be his; nor will 150 Tests or 1000 international dismissals. But these are personal and statistical milestones. For those who were around, the memories of his contribution to a fluctuating team in a changing era will take a very long time to fade.

Like Tatenda Taibu, his African keeping compatriot, who left the game in happier circumstances this week, he was a cricketer of resilience and some brilliance, even if, because he was lucky enough to have been born in 1976 rather than 1956, his career wasn't blighted by politics in the way that Taibu's was.

Limping out of an ODI in Durham probably wasn't how Brett Lee saw his international career ending either. With him, though, the memories are more vivid: the first time I can remember seeing him he was bowling to Mervyn Dillon on a Perth flier, his visceral speed awakening distant memories of Jeff Thomson. Scroll on a few years and he is bowling from the Pavilion End at Lord's in July 2005. At the start of his narrow-hipped run he leans forward like a sprinter before hurling himself at the crease with the smoothness of a thoroughbred. If anyone with fewer athletic gifts tried to do the same they would look clumsy and unbalanced, but Lee never does. Through the crease the sense of grace and incipient ball speed is so pronounced that people in the crowd find themselves catching their breath in with an involuntary sharpness that shocks them. Raw athleticism can do that to people.

A few weeks later he is bowling to Andrew Flintoff as England chase a modest target to win the Trent Bridge Test. Lee brings one back in at high pace to beat Flintoff's clumsy, defeated stroke, and the ball hits the top of the stumps. Lee spreads his arms to acclaim his triumph as England's hero of heroes shuffles off.

A few weeks later still in the greatest summer he is fielding on the boundary as England steadily bat his side out of game and series on the last day at The Oval. In the morning he has given everything, almost poleaxing Pietersen with one of the most fearsome deliveries anyone present has seen in years and also having him dropped at slip by Shane Warne. After lunch he has seen Pietersen repeatedly hit him over and through the leg side, leaving his fellow fast bowler, Shaun Tait, scrambling in the dirt at deep square leg.

From my vantage point high up in front of the gasholders, I can see that Lee is smiling and laughing with the crowd, even though the Ashes are slipping away. He has done the same for much of the summer, earning the respect of everyone for his warmth and humanity. It will be something he will never lose, even as his team declines.

He is everyone's favourite Australian.


Prophet without Honour

When a batsman retires after twenty-five years in professional cricket and you can clearly remember where you were when he played his first match, well, you're getting old. In fact, both of you are.

So it is with me and Mark Ramprakash.

These days Toby Radford coaches the West Indies. But when I first saw him he was batting with Mark Ramprakash.

Radford was young then, about seventeen, younger even than Ramprakash, and he was resolutely and quietly orthodox in the slightly uneasy way which young players who've been brought up by cricket coach fathers are. I remember him only as a counterpoint to the main act, which involved Ramprakash repeatedly advancing down the wicket to Hampshire Seconds' Paul-Jan Bakker and attempting to hit him into the next parish. For the most part he failed and was soon cleaned up by a man, Alan Mullally, with whom he later played for England.

Everyone knew he'd be good, though, and when, a couple of months later, he took his side to the NatWest Trophy with a display of mature coolness and skill, the world seemed to be at his feet. It was just a matter of time.

But his time never came.

Maybe it's just me, but the images which scroll into my mind when I think of Ramprakash tend to be of struggle and failure: the teeth-gritted battles against the West Indies in 1991 which promised so much, the Lord's pair against the same opponents in 1995 and the fish-out-of-water failures when opening in 2000. However, if you think a little harder you can see him, arms aloft on a sunny day at the Kensington Oval, with his maiden Test hundred in the bag. As usual, everyone thought he'd cracked Test cricket then, but he never did.

The obvious, brutal, truth about cricket is that statistics, when compiled over an extended period, don't lie. And if you end up with an average of 27 from 52 Tests it means, for whatever range of reasons, that, at the highest level of the game, you weren't really very good.

For most people who fail in Test cricket there's little anxiety or discussion outside their own heads. They didn't quite have it; they came, they went. Rarely do they get more than fifty matches to show themselves. Ramprakash was different, though, which was why he got all those games and why so many people - especially those who follow the two counties he graced, really graced, for a quarter-century - have always found what happened to him at the highest level so confusing and difficult to understand.

I've discussed Ramprakash and his legacy here before, and I don't have any definitive answers. But as someone who first heard about his potential in 1983, followed his first-class career from its very first day to its last, and first wrote about him in 1992, my instinct is that he was someone whose consuming desire to succeed outweighed his ability to deal with the prospect of the sense of inadequacy which was bound to follow a failure to do so, especially once, early in his Test career, the big scores failed to come. He simply wanted it too much.

And, God knows, some of the attacks he faced in his early days - the West Indians in 1991, Wasim and Waqar in 1992 - had their merits too.

The suspicion lingers that under his edgy, passionate exterior, Ramprakash was always much more vulnerable than he seemed. And the landscape surrounding the England side which he came into at the turn of the nineties could not have been more different to the air of security, mutual support, belief and trust which surrounds it today.

When they're reassured, and encouraged, and given time to develop, fragile yet gifted players can thrive and be recognized for what they are. Just look at Ian Bell.

For the years which followed his leaving of Test cricket in 2002, Ramprakash was destined for life as the greatest prophet without honour the modern game has seen. His batting for Surrey during his real glory years between 2002 and 2010 was, regardless of bowling or conditions, among the very finest seen from an English batsman since the Second World War. It was his way of absolving the memory of the other, less glorious, chapters which had gone before.

People will tell you things about Mark Ramprakash.

But don't ever let anyone tell you that Mark Ramprakash wasn't very good.

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