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But for apartheid, this South African cricketer would have been greatest all rounder

By Harsh Thakor* 

On February 17th legendary cricketer Mike Procter sadly left us, nursing complications from a heart surgery. Had he had a full fledged career, which apartheid policies of South Africa wouldn’t have robbed, Procter would probably have been the greatest all rounder ever after Sir Garfield Sobers. For a while after retirement of Sobers in terms of all-round cricketing prowess Procter was 2nd only to Sobers. 
Procter was an epitome of athleticism and aggression. He played against Gary Sobers, which became close to cricket's greatest duel. Above all he exhibited sportsmanship of the highest degree.
Considering he was a genuinely quick pace bowler, and struck the ball with thunderous power with the bat, he could possibly have been the greatest match-winner amongst all-rounders. Few cricketers struck more lightning and thunder on a cricket field. To me he would secure a permanent place amongst cricket's greatest entertainers. 
In full flow Procter could create the impact of a Tsunami with the bat. However, it was complemented with sound technique. He could exhibit the methodology of an English grammar professor in his strokes, being a master of the cover drive. With his batting exuberance I would have backed him to turn the fortunes of game more than even Botham, Imran, Kapil Dev or Kallis. At his best he was simply majestic with the bat.
Procter scored 6 centuries in succession for Rhodesia in the Currie Cup, resembling an invincible emperor. His knock of 203 in 1978 against Essex in 165 innings was compared to the very best innings of Walter Hammond, taking batting domination to a pinnacle.
Procter’s bowling was explosive, blazingly quick, ending with his shoulders almost square to the stumps. Even though he possessed a most unorthodox, front on action, few pacemen were more lethal in full flow as Procter. He was reminiscent of a bull charging in. He mastered the art of mixing pace with movement both ways. He released the ball with a high straight arm, his chest facing the batsman and his front foot still in the air. 
Few bowlers were ever better exponents of the inswinger, and arguably Procter with his action did not need an outswinger in his armoury. In the view of Doug Walters, "His leg-cutter mostly seamed inwards to the right handers rather than away, but could be unplayable when it gripped and seamed away”. Quoting Mark Nicholas, "His arms worked like helicopter blades and the ball flew at the batsmen as if propelled by machine; it would swing and skid, but when he rolled his fingers across the seam, it would bite and cut.”
A concoction of inswing, straight ball and movement either way off the pitch, made Procter a truly great bowler. When his leg-cutter gripped it was unplayable, when it seamed away. Often he disguised his leg cutter to seam the ball into the right hander.
His unplayable inswing enabled him to capture 4 first class hat tricks in the 1970s. In the 1977 Benson and Hedges semi-final at Southampton he exhibited one of pace bowling's most dazzling or penetrative exhibitions, taking four wickets in 5 balls, including trapping both Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards in front. 
Incredibly, Procter could also bowl effective offspin, on turning tracks, or when wickets were not conducive to pace. Quoting Alex Bannister in the Almanak, “He represents what the ancient game needs everywhere-a real personality -- a gifted performer, and one who is seen to enjoy every minute on a cricket field.” 
With his exceptional prowess I may have backed Procter to more consistently turn matches than even Ian Botham or Jacques Kallis.
In Kerry Packer cricket against the best of opposition he dazzled like no all-rounder. Australian fans got vibrations of Keith Miller and Gary Sobers resurrected when he was on the field. He averaged 18.6 with the ball and 34 with the bat, in 3 games. It was hard to visualize even Botham surpassing that, considering stature of the opposition.
Had Procter played for South Africa after it's return in 1991 or later years, I feel he would have been even more impactful than Kallis. I can't express how much I would have relished witnessing Procter playing against the best West Indies team of Clive Lloyd. It is notable that in 2 games when Procter scalped hat tricks, he capped it with centuries. 
In first class cricket, Mike Procter is 2nd only to Gary Sobers, statistically. He scored 21,936 runs at an average of 36.01 and captured 1,417 wickets at 19.53. In the only 7 test matches he played he scored 226 runs at 25.11 and captured 41 wickets at 15.02. Pertinent that Procter was instrumental in South Africa being arguably the best team in the world in 1970, before it was debarred from international cricket.
Christopher Martin Jenkins ranks him as the 68th best cricketer of all time. Geoff Armstrong in his VIth all-time XI and Late John Woodcock ranked him at 43rd place amongst his 100 best cricketers of all time, above the likes of even Alan Border, Kapil Dev and Greg Chappell. 
A very sound judge of the game who held Viv Richards, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Gary Sobers, Ian Botham, Sunil Gavaskar, Zaheer Abbas and Michael Holding in the highest esteem. Even though a South African, he still rates Gary Sobers as the greatest of all allrounders, above Jacques Kallis. On pure ability I would have selected Mike Procter to join Sir Gary Sobers in an all-time test XI.
I appreciate that Procter most gracefully accepted his being barred in the 1970s and 1980s from international cricket expressing   that humanity was more precious than cricket and South Africa had to pay the price for it. Quoting Mike, “Yes, I lost a Test career. But what is a Test career compared to the suffering of 40 million people? Lots of people lost a great deal more in those years, and if by missing out on a Test career we played a part in changing an unjust system, then that is fine by me.” 
As an administrator and coach he played an important role in shaping South Africa to be the leading test nation for a period and unofficially the best one day team in the world. Till his last breath day he exuded great positivity to the game. I would bracket him amongst the least racist administrators who promoted coloured people into the mainstream of South African cricket. 
He played a role as match referee, when, amidst controversy at The Oval in 2006,  Pakistan forfeited the Test. Again, in Sydney in 2007-08, he banned Harbhajan Singh.
---
*Freelance journalist

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