Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Mike Procter played the last of his 401 first-class matches — and scored the last two of his 21,936 runs and claimed the last three of his 1,417 wickets — almost 29 years ago.

Yet there he is at a bookshop, beaming brightly from the cover of Caught in the Middle: The Autobiography of Mike Procter.

Why now? Well, because it is Christmas.

But also perhaps because Procter’s cricket career extended far beyond what he did as one of its most stellar players.

He was the country’s first post-isolation coach and has been a commentator‚ convenor of selectors and match referee.

Now 71‚ Procter has not been involved at any noticeable level for years save for a few forays‚ at the sharp end of the camera‚ into video punditry.

But it will surprise no one who knows him should he pop up in some significant role in future. He is a man of cricket as much as cricket is a part of him.

The book‚ which rings true with Procter’s good-natured‚ straightforward manner‚ was written by Lungani Zami‚ who is among the most erudite of SA’s younger cricket journalists.

It covers all aspects of Procter’s time in the game and does not duck when the going gets messy. Like it did at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2008 when Harbhajan Singh was alleged to have racially abused Andrew Symonds.

The saga went back and forth and‚ as is so often the case in these matters‚ fact becomes detached from fiction. It is hard not to empathise with Procter‚ who was the match referee — not only because of the whorls within whorls that stained the issue with bumptiousness and absurdity‚ but also because through it all he had to deal with easily the most arrogant teams in cricket.

Procter’s frank and forthright retelling of the incident and its fallout only reinforces that view.

He was also in the thick of the bomb blast that rocked Karachi during New Zealand’s tour in 2002‚ and Pakistan’s walk-off at The Oval in 2006.

And all that after he had been a member of the lost generation of white South African players whose careers were stunted‚ but not nearly as much as the many generations of black players who came before and after Procter’s time. He would not be human if he did not wonder what might have been‚ but Procter clearly knows he got the better end of the deal than his black compatriots.

"It must have been hard to believe that a team that was still almost exclusively white was representing a nation with a rich diversity of people — with white people being in the minority‚" he writes in the chapter on SA’s first trip to the World Cup in 1992.

Such sensibility has served him well over the years and set him apart from contemporaries who have spent too many of the ensuing years exposing their entitled bitterness over what they consider the theft of their international careers by politics.

It is all there in the black and white of this book‚ which should indeed be judged by its cover. Next to the picture of the older‚ smiling Procter is another of him at the moment of delivery.

That famously unorthodox action has reached its zenith: his left leg looks like it’s about to crumple beneath him‚ his left arm is a pathetic squiggle‚ and his awkwardly angled upper body is a study in how to cause yourself years of pain.

The unleashed ball is captured a centimetre or five above all that incorrectness.

Its shine tells us it is new‚ and its proud seam is as upright as is possible for the seam of a cricket ball to be.

Michael John Procter has spent 71 years getting the big things right‚ and bugger the rest.

This book confirms that‚ however many more years he has left‚ that will not change.

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