Mike Procter and Lungani Zama, Caught in the Middle: The Autobiography of Mike Procter (Cape Town: Don Nelson, 2017)

A FEROCIOUSLY fast bowler who could turn to off spin, a dominating and entertaining middle order batsman, a good fielder and often successful captain – Mike Procter was an immensely talented cricketer. His English county, Gloucester, to which he remained loyal for many years, was jokingly known as Proctershire. Favourable comparisons with the greatest all-rounder of all time, Garfield Sobers, are not out of place. And after his playing days he was coach, manager, national selector and match referee.

This is his third book. As in the others he comes across as a philosophical character apparently bearing few grudges for past disappointments. One of them was the Monkeygate incident of January 2008 when as match referee he was shafted by both the Indian and Australian cricket boards following what seems to have been correct procedure after Harbhajan Singh racially abused Andrew Symonds. This was the end of Procter’s long cricket career.

He describes admirable efforts he has made with Rodney Malamba to introduce cricket at a disadvantaged school near Durban, predictably without a shred of support from the game’s administrators, provincial or national. And he is forthright in condemning the injustices of the past without the sourness displayed by Mark Nicholas, who has written a foreword.

In it Nicholas argues that ‘Apartheid was no fault of … cricketers’. But, it was indeed the fault of the white community in which they were raised. Some broke away and identified with players and organisations who, from the mid-1950s, revived nineteenth-century traditions of non-racialism in South African sport. Most did not and, continuing to enjoy a privileged lifestyle, expected to participate in international cricket, which not before time came to an end in 1970 for over two decades.

But even the phlegmatic Procter is still woefully misguided about the history of South African cricket. He describes the game at unification in the early 1990s as racially divided: wrong, it was ideologically divided. And he mistakenly believes that the inclusion of Basil d’Oliveira in an England Invitation XI tour in 1972 could have made a difference to the boycott. Such ignorance of the past is typical of too much sports writing yet enough has recently been written by historians to encourage a broader view that unshackles current perceptions from the colonial and apartheid mental prison into which they are locked.

On the whole Procter is poorly served by this book, which is full of bland comments emphasised by exclamation marks, repetition, and some poor writing. It adopts a tired old laddish sports reporting style that revels in casual, throwaway prose as if unwilling to rise above the level of barroom anecdote. There is far too much about juvenile behaviour and excessive drinking. And then there is apparent approval of World Series crowds in the 1970s ‘baying for blood’. It took many years but eventually and inevitably a batsman, Phil Hughes, was killed by hostile bowling of the sort approvingly described by Procter.

The proof reader of this book seems to have left the planet bestowing a trail of unforgiveable errors, not least of which are the misspelling of D’Oliveira’s name and the appearance of a Zimbabwean cricketer called John Tracois. It is one of the mysteries of the publishing world why so many worthwhile manuscripts are not accepted yet a high percentage of the titles on bookshop shelves are woefully below par, especially in the field of sport.