Man for all seasons

Mike Procter

The high profile South African and former cricketer has emerged as one of ICC's most talked about match officials

Friday, March 14, 2022

Mike Procter

Sportz Interactive

From being a talented cricketer to jumping into the role of a International Cricket Council (ICC) match-referee, Mike Procter has done it all in the last four decades.

Throughout his career, the South African has been a respected figure, both as a player and now even as an official.

Born in Durban, Natal, Procter was a keen sportsman from his early days. He was connected to cricket from the day he was born as his father was a first-class cricketer in South Africa. Procter was a major hit with the bat during his junior-level days, smashing five tons playing for his school.

He started to develop the reputation of a deadly pace bowler when he moved away from Natal to play first-class cricket for Rhodesia. With his unorthodox open chest action, and bustling pace, Procter created havoc in the domestic circuit in the mid 1960s. His ability to swing the ball vigorously into the batsman made him tough to deal. 

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After a two-year stint at the first-class level, Procter got the opportunity to don the South African outfit in 1967. He was part of a powerful Proteas team which included stars like Graeme Pollock, Peter Pollock, Barry Richards and Ali Bacher.

He played in seven Test matches for his nation, all against Australia. With his whirling arm bowling style, the muscular seamer unleashed thunderbolts to scalp 41 wickets in Tests. At a miserly bowling average of 15.02 in 14 innings, Procter proved himself as a valuable asset for his team. Australia lost six of the seven Tests against the Proteas in which the fast bowler opened the attack with the new ball.

Just when the all-rounder started to prove himself as a high-calibre player, his Test career was cut short as South Africa was banned from international cricket because of the rigid policies of racial segregation by his country's government. At the age of 23, Procter was robbed from establishing himself as a great cricketer on the grandest stage of them all.

After the end of his Test career, Procter shifted his focus to batting, scoring six centuries on the trot in first-class matches to equal the world record held by CB Fry and the legendary Sir Donald Bradman. He went on to become the only man to have scored 500 runs and picked up 50 wickets twice in the South African domestic circuit.

Legendary Sir Garfield Sober since said this about Procter:
"There have been very few better all-round cricketers in the world in my time. As a bowler he is fast, hostile and aggressive. I would put him in the same class as Charlie Griffith and Roy Gilchrist for bowling a bouncer no batsman likes receiving."

Procter signed up with English county side, Gloucestershire in 1968 started and thus began a new chapter in the South African's career. He made an immediate impact with bat and ball. He was close to completing a rare double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets until a knee injury eluded him from completing the feat in his maiden season in English domestic structure.

He immensely influenced the performances of the Gloucestershire team during his 13-year stint. His single-handed dominance with both bat and ball prompted the fans to rename the team as Proctershire. The former Proteas cricketer led his county side to many silverware and trophies.

Apart from the first-class matches, Procter was also part of the Kerry Packer Rest of the World team that beat England in 1970. After retiring as a player, he took up the position of director of coaching of Northamptonshire CCC. He also coached the South African team to victory against England in 1994 at Lords.

Procter now continued to serve cricket, this time in the role of a match-referee after ICC appointed him in April 2002. The former Test cricketer was soon selected in the ICC's elite panel. His life as match-referee has not been a pleasant journey. Till date, he has been involved in many cricket controversies, amongst which the 2006 Oval Test fiasco and the 2008 Sydney Test saga were the major ones.

During the 2006 Pakistan-England forurth Test at the Oval, the match was forfeited by the subcontinent team after skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq was accused of ball tampering. In the 2008 Sydney Test between India and Australia, Procter banned Harbhajan Singh for three Tests for allegedly racially abusing Andrew Symonds. The member of ICC elite panel came under severe criticism from many former cricketers and Indian media for his harsh judgment.

Procter had this to say about the recent Harbhajan controversy: 

"Indian people feel that I am against India. I make a decision based on what I have got in front of me and I got to live with the decision I make. I judge the decision on the facts as I see them and just not whether it is Indian, Pakistani, South African or an Australian. This is something I do which if I feel is right and more importantly for the game of cricket."

Despite all the controversies and criticism, Procter continues to earn respect from most corners of the cricket world. His hard work and discipline make him one of the most sincere characters in the sport today.

If his career would not have been cut short, the naturally-gifted South African would have definitely been the one name among the top all-rounders like Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee. There is no doubt that Procter is one of cricket's most special personalities.

No wonder then former Australian skipper Richie Benaud once said this to sum up Procter: 
"Mike Procter was a marvellous all-rounder who would have walked into any Test team since the war".