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