Mark Boucher was forced to retire from test cricket because of an eye injury, suddenly ending the career of the game's most successful wicketkeeper and leaving him stranded on 999 international dismissals.
South Africa wicketkeeper Boucher, who holds the record for test dismissals and is second on the one-day list, said "with sadness and in some pain" he had to give up international cricket because of the ruptured left eyeball injury he suffered in a tour game against Somerset on Monday.
It robbed him of what was expected to be a farewell series in England, where he also would have become just the second South African and seventh player to reach 150 test appearances.
Boucher left with a record 555 test dismissals, over 100 more than Australia's Adam Gilchrist in second, and 425 ODI dismissals, along with 19 in Twenty20s. He was one short of becoming the first wicketkeeper to 1,000 international dismissals.
He also averaged 30.30 as a middle and lower order batsman in tests with five centuries and 35 half centuries, adding to his reputation as a gutsy and ultra-competitive player.
In a statement read out by South Africa captain Graeme Smith at Somerset's County Ground in Taunton, Boucher said that due to the severity of the eye injury he wouldn't be able to play tests again. He was no longer part of the one-day team.
"I had never anticipated announcing my retirement now, but circumstances have dictated differently," Boucher said. "I have a number of thankyous to make to people who have made significant contributions during my international career, which I will do in due course.
"For now I would like to thank the huge number of people, many of whom are strangers, for their heartfelt support during the past 24 hours. I am deeply touched by all the well wishes. I wish the team well in the UK, as I head home and onto a road of uncertain recovery."
Boucher was hurt in a freak incident while keeping to legspinner Imran Tahir as the ball hit the bail, which then ricocheted into his eye.
He underwent surgery for nearly three hours on Monday, but the long-term damage was still unclear and could prevent him playing any cricket again.
The incident happened on South Africa's first day of action on its tour and just over a week ahead of the first of three tests between top-ranked England and the No. 2-ranked Proteas.
Boucher would return home as soon as he was well enough, the team said.
"The extent of his eye injury has been described to have been severe," team manager Mohammed Moosajee said. "Although the eyeball has been repaired the long-term prognosis currently remains unknown."
Smith has played his entire test career alongside the long-serving Boucher and paid tribute to the wicketkeeper as he stood alongside batsman Jacques Kallis - a close friend of Boucher - and coach Gary Kirsten.
"Bouch, we have walked a long road together, and we are saddened to part under these circumstances," Smith said. "For the 14 years of your international career, you have been a true Proteas warrior, a patriotic South African, a fighter who asks nothing and gives everything. You have been a 100 percenter for this team.
"You leave us today with sad hearts, but also with a deep gratitude for your contributions to our team, and to us as people. The fighting spirit you brought to the team remains with us."
Boucher played 147 tests and 295 one-day internationals after making his debut for the Proteas at 20.
His record for test dismissals as a wicketkeeper will likely stand for some time. The closest challenger to the mark still playing is India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni with 220, less than half of Boucher's 555.
Boucher had been expected to retire after South Africa's series against England or the tour of Australia later this year, but the injury robbed him of the chance to follow friend Kallis as the only South African to play 150 tests.
"He wanted to finish here. He's been talking about maybe going, if needed, to Australia but he wanted to go out on a real high in England," said Allan Donald, Boucher's former teammate and South Africa's bowling coach. "I can't think of a bigger kick in the teeth than that. To happen on the first day is a cruel blow."
Cricket South Africa said a tribute would be held for Boucher on Wednesday in Cape Town.
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