Sport

TRIBUTE

Mike Procter — a cricketing colossus who epitomised the best of the game

Mike Procter — a cricketing colossus who epitomised the best of the game
Mike Procter during the Old Greys Cape Town chapter Graeme Pollock benefit dinner at Western Province Cricket Club in Cape Town on 6 November 2014. (Photo: Shaun Roy / Gallo Images)

South African cricketing great Mike Procter, 77, died in Durban on Saturday, 17 February 2024, after complications from heart surgery at the age of 77.

‘Proccie.” One word conjured so many images for those who saw him play. Open-necked shirt, sprinting in to bowl off a terrifyingly long run-up, blond hair bouncing in unison with his quick stride. The moment of delivery with a quick right-arm whirl and chest-on arrival at the crease. The illusion of bowling off the wrong foot. What a sight for fans.

It was less of a welcome image for batters a mere 20m away, waiting to navigate the pace, swing and seam of Michael John Procter in full flow. And that was only his bowling. His batting could be equally mesmerising.

Procter was one of the greatest all-rounders the sport of cricket has ever known. For people who never saw him play, and this writer only really caught the end of his illustrious career, he was a more swashbuckling version of Jacques Kallis.

Procter only played seven official Tests for South Africa between 1966 and 1970 because of the country’s eventual ban from international sport over the government’s apartheid policies.

In those seven Tests, which were all against Australia and included a 4-0 sweep of Bill Lawry’s 1969-70 Australians in South Africa, Proctor took 41 wickets at an average of 15.02.

He “only” averaged 25.11 with the bat, but coming in lower down the order staffed by the likes of Barry Richards, Ali Bacher and Graeme Pollock, he didn’t spend as much time at the crease as he’d have liked.

Mike Procter in action. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen / Gallo Images)

Mike Procter – a fearsome sight for a batter. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)

Mike Procter

Mike Procter was one of the greatest all-rounders the sport of cricket has ever known. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen / Gallo Images)

‘Proctershire’

In first class cricket Procter excelled, especially in England where his easy aesthetic style, his supreme natural talent and fierce competitiveness were allowed to shine in 16 seasons for Gloucestershire in the England County game between 1965 and 1981.

He made 259 first-class appearances for Gloucestershire, scoring 14,441 runs at 36.19, with 32 centuries and a best of 209. He took a mammoth 833 wickets at 19.56. He was so revered in Bristol that the team became known as “Proctershire”.

The club stated it would fly its flag at half-mast until the start of the new County season on 5 April as a mark of respect for perhaps its greatest player.

“Gloucestershire Cricket is devastated to learn of the passing of former player and Club legend, Mike Procter,” the club said.

“As sensational as his talent was with the bat and with the ball, Procter’s name is scattered throughout the Gloucestershire record books.

“He has 32 centuries to his name and four hat-tricks; two against Essex in 1972 (also scored 102 not out) and 1977, one against Leicestershire in 1979 and one against Yorkshire in the same year.

The really good players perform on the biggest stage and that is what Mike did.

“Procter is also one of only five players to score 100 runs and take 10 wickets in the same match, a feat he achieved twice at Cheltenham College and on both occasions, in 1977 and 1980, against Worcestershire.”

Former Gloucestershire teammate David Graveney said: “I was very fortunate as a player to play under two of the finest captains, Tony Brown being one and Mike Procter being the other.

“Mike was a fantastic player and quite rightly regarded as one of the best all-rounders that has ever represented Gloucestershire.

“I don’t think people realise that when Mike played he was playing through great pain in his knee, but that didn’t stop him from performing at the level he did. He was just one of the best players I ever played with.

“The phrase ‘Proctershire’ was very apt for Mike. He put in the biggest performances in the biggest games. The hat-trick at Hampshire in the semifinal of the Benson & Hedges Cup and the runs he scored in the final of the Gillette Cup are two that I will remember fondly. The really good players perform on the biggest stage and that is what Mike did.”

Kepler Wessels and Mike Procter confer. (Photo: Ben Radford / Gallo Images)

Class is class

In all first-class cricket, which included playing for Natal, Rhodesia and Western Province, Procter scored 21,936 runs in 401 matches, averaging 36.01 with a high score of 259 and 48 centuries. He took 1,417 wickets in those matches at a staggering average of 19.53, with a best return of nine for 71.

What sums up his all-round greatness is that his best first-class figures were achieved bowling off-spin, playing for Rhodesia against Transvaal. In that match he took the first wicket bowling off his long run, and the next eight using spin.

There are no current cricketers who can so effectively oscillate between being one of the fastest bowlers in the world, to one of the best spinners from one day to the next.  

Procter also scored six consecutive centuries in six matches – a feat only achieved by Sir Donald Bradman and CB Fry.

Procter also achieved another other jaw-dropping record. He scored a century and took a hat-trick in the same match – twice.

Limited-overs cricket only began in the 1970s and Procter was at the forefront of the format with his all-round ability. He played 271 limited-overs matches, scoring 6,624 runs at an average of 27.94.

With the ball his return was even more impressive, with 344 wickets at 18.76 and an economy rate of 3.13.

He famously took four wickets in five balls in the Benson & Hedges Cup semifinal at Southampton in 1977, which included the scalps of West Indian great Gordon Greenwich and fellow South African Richards. Gloucestershire went on to beat Kent in the final at Lord’s.

Had Procter played today, he would have been a white-ball star and made millions in the many T20 leagues around the world.

Procter also achieved another other jaw-dropping record. He scored a century and took a hat-trick in the same match – twice.

He was also an astute captain and when he retired he had multiple roles as a coach, selector, administrator, commentator, International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee and mentor.

Procter was South Africa’s first post-isolation coach when they played a Test against the West Indies and also through the 1992 ICC Cricket World Cup and beyond.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Remembering John Arlott: Scourge of apartheid cricket (1914-1991)

As a match referee he was firm and fair. He once famously suspended India’s Harbhajan Singh for using a racist slur in Sydney against Australia.

“Obviously it was disappointing to have missed virtually a career in Test cricket. But I was fortunate to play county cricket, for the Rest of the World, and World Series Cricket – so I was lot better off than many other South Africans,” Procter told The Cricket Monthly magazine in 2009.

Kenyan captain Steve Tikolo tosses the coin, watched by commentator Mike Atherton (left), Canadian captain John Davison and match referee Mike Procter before a World Cup Group C match at the Beausejour Cricket Ground in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia, on 14 March 2007. (Photo: Clive Mason / Getty Images)

Mike Procter of International XI and teammates shake hands with Matthew Hoggard of PCA England masters and teammates during the PCA Summer Garden Party at The Hurlingham Club in London on 18 July 2019. (Photo: Christopher Lee / Getty Images for PCA)

“The ban helped democracy come to South Africa quicker than it would have otherwise. We cricketers felt very, very strongly about apartheid. It was against our principles.”

In 2014, he also set up a charity in South Africa in his own name, the Mike Procter Foundation, which aims to transform the lives of children through the power of sport. Procter went on to register the charity in the UK in 2018 with the ambition of providing the provision of cricket coaching to underprivileged and vulnerable children.

Procter is survived by his wife Maryna and three children, Greg, Jessica and Tammy. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • A Rosebank Ratepayer says:

    Very sad, one of the great names in sport when I was growing up in Zim. As a school boy I was privileged to attend coaching clinics with him, Eddie Barlow, Barry Richards and the Pollock brothers at Harare sports club and the Police Grounds.

  • Tothe Point says:

    Unbelievable memories of watching him play Provincial cricket for Rhodesia,WP and Natal against EP at St Georges Park. It was especially tortuous when in form Barry Richards and Mike Proctor teamed up at the crease. He also featured regularly in the Union CC’s annual Single Wicket Tournament in PE, alongside other greats such as the Pollock Brothers, Clive Rice, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow and many others. I also had the pleasure of seeing him play in the final test against the Aussies in 1970 at St George’s Park to complete a great 4-0 whitewash.
    RIP MJ PROCTOR.

  • Bonzo Gibbon says:

    With regard to the Harbhajan Singh incident, it was an unfortunate mix up. What Harbhajan actually said was “Teri Maa ki”, Hindi for “Your mother”. Symonds thought he heard “monkey”. So it was a bit like the Nbonambi/Curry business. There was no racism from the Indians. And Harbhajan was responding to the usual unrelenting abuse from the Australians, including mockery directed at his Sikh religion.

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