A ‘sun­lit’ cricket ca­reer forged in wrong place, wrong time

The Mercury - - SPORT -

IN some ways, luck hasn’t been much of a lady in Mike Proc­ter’s life. Given what might have been for this enor­mously tal­ented crick­eter, there’s been plenty of sour mixed in with the sweet.

In this ab­sorb­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, with Proc­ter pro­vid­ing the thoughts and cricket writer Lun­gani Zama the ex­cel­lent words, life has not al­ways been a bed of roses for one of the world’s great­est all-rounders. His var­i­ous ca­reers as a crick­eter, match ref­eree, coach and na­tional selector have all had their dark mo­ments. And he opens up, also, on an un­for­tu­nate in­vest­ment he made af­ter his ca­reer was over that drained his life’s earn­ings.

We all know that Proc­ter – along with oth­ers – had the mis­for­tune to be born dur­ing the apartheid era. It was a bru­tal fact that re­duced his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer to just seven Tests, all against Aus­tralia, in 1966/7 and 1969/70. Con­sid­er­ing what he could have achieved if his coun­try had not been ex­iled from world cricket, his fate is worth weep­ing over. Added to that is Cricket South Africa’s de­ci­sion not to ac­knowl­edge him as a for­mer Test crick­eter by deny­ing him a cap num­ber. A re­cent de­ci­sion to of­fer apartheid-era play­ers a “her­itage blazer” is thin gruel in­deed, although Proc­ter ac­cepts the ges­ture with grace and warmth. No won­der Mark Nicholas, in the fore­word, says that there is a “great sad­ness in South African cricket and it fil­ters through its past”. He accuses CSA of hav­ing a “venge­ful eye” in un­fairly de­priv­ing the likes of Proc­ter and Graeme Pol­lock of “any vis­i­ble legacy”.

Proc­ter and Zama sweep briskly and en­ter­tain­ingly through his cricket ca­reer, with ma­jor stopovers at Natal, Rhode­sia, Glouces­ter­shire (“the time of my life”), the Rest of the World and World Se­ries cricket. The lat­ter, we are told, was the “tough­est level of cricket I ever played”. There was pas­sion­ate in­ten­sity in matches in­volv­ing the best play­ers in Aus­tralia, the West Indies and the Rest of the World, and Proc­ter grate­fully ac­knowl­edges Kerry Packer’s achieve­ment in forc­ing the world’s cricket ad­min­is­tra­tors to be­gin re­gard­ing – and re­ward­ing – crick­eters as stars rather than their feu­dal staff.

One of the book’s most im­por­tant chap­ters fo­cuses on an in­ci­dent – dubbed “Mon­key­gate” – that clearly still causes Proc­ter pain. For a sim­ple, de­cent man, it is the clos­est he gets to har­bour­ing re­sent­ment.

It was Proc­ter’s mis­for­tune that he was the match ref­eree dur­ing a bad-tem­pered Test match be­tween Aus­tralia and In­dia in 2008. In an en­thralling ac­count, he gives his per­spec­tive on the “Mon­key­gate” machi­na­tions that en­sued in­volv­ing In­dia’s Harb­ha­jan Singh and Aus­tralia’s Andrew Sy­monds. Re­flect­ing on an episode that has, per­haps per­ma­nently, alien­ated him from In­dian cricket and their play­ers, he con­cludes sadly: “I still in­sist that I was just do­ing my job at the end of that chaotic Test , and I have been pay­ing the silent price ever since.”

It’s hard not to con­clude that Proc­ter’s mis­for­tunes re­late at least in part to his be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this con­text, Nicholas’s view that be­ing a match ref­eree “stretched him fully and, at times, went beyond his sim­ple truths – such is the oc­ca­sion­ally un­der­hand na­ture of the game” – is a view that de­serves con­sid­er­a­tion.

If Proc­ter’s life is some­times in shadow, there are also long pe­ri­ods of glo­ri­ous sun­shine, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing his time as an over­seas crick­eter for Glouces­ter­shire when, it seemed, all things – bar­ring an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer – were pos­si­ble.

For many, par­tic­u­larly in Eng­land where he was seen at his best, Proc­ter’s ca­reer will for­ever be a sun­lit mem­ory. This book, how­ever, en­ables us to see a life in full with an ap­pro­pri­ate end­ing as the great man con­tin­ues to give back to the game that once sus­tained him, coach­ing black pri­mary school chil­dren.

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