March 5, 1971. Mike Procter entered the record books with his sixth century on the trot. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the remarkable run of the all-rounder who balanced his run- making spree with 27 wickets in eight matches, at 15.53 apiece.
Gloucestershire is a county known for the Graces, with the bearded great WG Grace dominating the landscape. Later, it was made famous by the mighty deeds by the likes of Gilbert Jessop and Wally Hammond.
Yet, from the late sixties through the seventies, the county was often called Proctershire — and for some excellent reasons. Mike Procter, the South African all-rounder of exceptional talent, remained passionately loyal to Gloucestershire. His blistering batting for the county earned him 14,441 runs at 36.19 with 32 hundreds, while his intimidating fast-medium bowling, unleashed off the wrong foot, captured 833 wickets for them at 19.54. The haul included 42 five-for and two hat-tricks.
Procter started with 108 wickets at 14 apiece in 1969, propelling the county from the last rungs of the county standings to the second position. Down the years runs were plundered and wickets skittled with equal gusto.
In 1970, he scored 934 runs at 36 with his flamboyant batting, and captured 65 wickets at 21 with his hostile pace bowling.
There were four hundreds in 1971, four five wicket hauls in 1972. Often, the brilliance with bat and ball took place simultaneously. Against Worcestershire in 1977, Procter slammed a century before lunch and followed it up with 13 wickets for just 73 runs. He blasted another century before lunch in 1979 against Leicestershire, the season’s fastest century, before running through the batsmen with a hat-trick. In the very next game, against Yorkshire, Procter claimed another hat-trick, all trapped leg-before.
Every summer one was left wondering what this incredible cricketer could have achieved on the world stage had South Africa not been isolated by the rest of the sporting world.
It was not that he was just enjoying himself in the English summers. With the sun, he trotted back to South Africa when the county season was over, and continued to run riot for Rhodesia, and later Natal, in the domestic Currie Cup championships.
Six in six
After the all-round exploits for Gloucestershire in 1970, Procter returned to the field barely a couple of months later, knocking over the Border batsmen for 57, with figures of 10-8-8-5. He followed it up with a hard-hitting 45.
Having warmed up to his satisfaction with this outing, he went through the remainder of the season rewriting the record books with his willow, joining the exclusive club which till then had only Don Bradman and CB Fry as its members.
Against Natal, at Bulawayo, Procter scalped three for 46 and followed it up with a 119-run mayhem, before coming back to pick up two more in the second innings.
The following match against Transvaal B at Salisbury, he blasted 129 batting at No 6.
It was a month later that Rhodesia played their next game, against Orange Free State at the Ramblers Cricket Club Ground, Blomfontein. Procter opened the bowling and picked up three for 26 as the opponents were shot out for 66. He followed it with 107, adding 150 with John McPhun for the fourth wicket.
On the New Year’s Day 1971, Procter blazed away on a difficult pitch at Pretoria, coming in at 56 for three and notching up 174, at that time the highest score of his career. Not satisfied with this, he took three for 20 and two for 22 as North Eastern Transvaal folded up twice and succumbed to an innings defeat.
The following match was played at De Beers Stadium at Kimberley against Griqualand, and Procter came in at No 4 to strike 106. When the opposition batted, he pitched in as usual with three for 15.
There was almost a two month gap before Rhodesia played again, but Procter’s form was already at its mid-season peak and there it remained. At the Police B Ground in Salisbury, Rhodesia was soon in trouble against Western Province on a lively wicket. Procter walked in at five for two, and another wicket went down without addition to the score. And then he put the bowling to sword. Thrashing every bowler around the park, this imperious all-rounder scored his sixth century on the trot. Only Bradman and Fry had managed such a run before — scoring half-a-dozen hundreds in as many innings. Having passed the milestone, Procter made it a huge one. He ended with 254, the highest he ever scored in First-Class cricket.
The effort must have fatigued him somewhat, because he did not bowl a lot in the first innings. He was used more in the second, as a canny off-spinner to get rid of the tail. His figures read 11-7-10-1 and 21.3-6-40-2.
His phenomenal run came to an end when he was dismissed for a low score of 22 in the final First-Class match of the season, turning out for The Rest against Transvaal. In the season he scored 956 runs at 119.50 with six hundreds, and accounted for 27 batsmen at 15.53.
He played much of his cricket while Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev were tracing their supreme paths in the cricket world. However, Mike Procter had it in him to become the best all-rounder of his time
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)