There are probably a lot of men in their forties and fifties walking around the country these days with bad postural problems and inflamed tendons, all because of Mike Procter.
If you were a schoolboy interested in cricket in Gloucestershire during the 1970s, and you were interested in cricket, you wanted to be Mike Procter. No disrespect to Zaheer Abbas or Sadiq Mohammad or any of the other local boys but Gloucestershire was called Proctershire with good reason. He was as talismanic a figure as you could get with bat and ball, and the best thing about him was he bowled in such a ridiculous way - front on, off the wrong foot, and fast, really fast.
Which is probably why so many of us are permanently damaged; it was a lot more interesting going into the nets at school and trying to bowl like Proccy, even if it meant you fell over half the time and every other ball was a full toss. And how much fun was it trying to work out the run-up with one extra or one fewer pace, so that you came crashing down on the wrong foot?
There must be orthopaedic surgeons the length and breadth of the land who have made money out of Procter impersonators. But one day above all stands out - never to be forgotten for two reasons. I was thoroughly mature by this time, and more interested in girls, music and drink at university in Southampton than perfecting my Procter run-up when Gloucestershire played Hampshire in the semi-finals of the 1977 Benson and Hedges Cup. The Sex Pistols were singing "God Save the Queen" but there were not too many punks with safety pins through their noses and chessboard hair of orange and green inside the county ground for the game.
Barry Richards and Procter - the two great South Africans isolated by apartheid - were in direct opposition. Gordon Greenidge was there too. Is it a sign of age that just by mentioning their names you are transported back to another time and the hairs really do bristle on the back of your neck?
If you are of that vintage, you will know what happened. Procter took four wickets in five balls, including a hat-trick. It was probably the most exciting thing I've ever seen on a cricket field - or at least partly saw, because the summer of '77 was a proper summer and, while not as warm as the previous two, provided a pollen fiesta. Until that semi-final I had no idea I suffered from hay fever, but as the day progressed and the pollen did whatever pollen does, I started sneezing relentlessly and irritatingly for those surrounding me in the stand. There are only so many times you can apologise and mid-way through Procter's demolition of the Hampshire line-up I was forced to bail out of my seat and position myself behind the stand, allowing the crowd to tell me what was going on.
|There must be orthopaedic surgeons the length and breadth of the land who have made money out of Procter impersonators|
Since that afternoon I have never been to a cricket match without the necessary medication but on that particular day the pollen did to me what Proccy did to Hampshire.
Given the job that I have been lucky enough to do now for nearly 25 years, it is perhaps one of those strange quirks of fate that I have never met him, and in a funny way I do not want to. Mike Procter will always be to me the tousle-haired blond bombshell flying in to deliver unplayable deliveries - not an ICC official as he now is.
I read a great deal about the criticism he received for imposing the three-match ban on Harbhajan Singh during the series against Australia and got progressively more cross. I mused about redressing the balance in my column in the Daily Telegraph. And then I wondered why I was getting so aggravated and I realised it was because one of my teenage heroes was being lampooned so unfairly.
Perhaps those kind of irrational loyalties are best left in their own time and space. This was indeed the summer of John Lydon and the Silver Jubilee, and if the iPod had been invented, mine would have played Fleetwood Mac's Rumours every hour of every day. But it was also the summer that Mike Procter did for me what Botham did for others in '81 and Andrew Flintoff for the new power generation in 2005. For that he remains one of the figures that defines a period of my life. And so long as we never meet, he will be forever young.
John Inverdale is a BBC sports broadcaster and journalist. This article was first published in the July 2008 edition of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here