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In the many obituaries and tributes paid to the recently-deceased Mike Proctor, one of his great deeds is always remembered – his four wickets in five balls, including a hat-trick, playing for Gloucestershire against Hampshire in 1977. To those of us playing on the losing side that day, events are seared into our memories. Had Proctor not delivered that inspired over, we would probably have won, and who knows, we, and not our conquerors that day, might have carried off the trophy at Lord’s three weeks later. As it happened, I should have been Proctor’s hat-trick victim in that over…..or maybe not. Perhaps I would have stepped inside the line of that vicious inswinger and clipped it for four past the square-leg umpire. In my dreams. The likelihood is that I would have had my stumps splayed, as happened to John Rice. So, why wasn’t it me? Some context is needed here.


Hampshire had never been to a Lord’s final. We had played well that season taking us into the semi-final of the Benson and Hedges Cup and confidence was high as we had home advantage taking on Gloucestershire, against whom we had recently had some success. The ground at our old headquarters in Southampton was packed to the rafters a full hour before play, a not inconsiderable contingent of whomhad made their way up from the West Country, already full of Scrumpy and in raucous voice. The atmosphere was electric. Never before, and never since, did I play in such an emotionally charged game of cricket.


We bowled first and did a thoroughly presentable job by restricting Gloucestershire to 180 all out, the wickets being shared by all the bowlers (except me). We rated our chances. The wicket was flat, we had the best pair of openers in the world, and we had Murtagh lurking somewhere there in the middle order. This was our chance – at long last – to enjoy a day out at Lord’s for a final. But Proctor had other ideas. His first victim was Gordon Greenidge, his middle stump cartwheeling a good ten yards back towards the wicket-keeper. Next ball, a single….which brought his great mate, Barry Richards, on strike. “I’ve played with and against Proccy since we were both in short trousers in Durban,” Barry told us, “So I am used to that unusual windmill action of his and I’ve got a pretty solid record batting against him.” Not this time, Barry, but nobody was of a mind to remind him of this as he angrily threw his bat and gloves into his bag. The fast in-swinging yorker had done for the finest batsman in the world. Barry had scarcely looked at the umpire raising his finger, so plumb was the LBW. The noise was ear-splitting as Proctor charged in again, this time to Trevor Jesty, his blond mop of hair bouncing and his shirt tails loose and flapping, a whirlwind of flailing arms as he delivered the ball, another fast in-swinger. Trevor was much too late on it, a great roar went up and the umpire gave a little knowing nod of the head and raised his finger. Pandemonium!


Just a minute. Why was it John Rice making his way to the wicket, not Andy Murtagh, as the scorecard had indicated?Well, the reason was that at that moment I was ‘indisposed’, not altogether surprising in view of what was going on out there in the middle. “Murt! Murt! You’re in!” somebody shouted at me from the other side of the toilet door. “Bugger off!” was my response, “If you think I’m going to fall for that old trick, you’ve got another think coming.” For I had been ‘had’ before, only to emerge in a state of considerable deshabille to general amusement amongst my team-mates. When I did, on this occasion, have second thoughts and quickly re-entered the dressing room, I was met by a scene of total panic and confusion. There were batsmen, either about to go in or had just been out, desperately padding up or padding out. There is nothing quite like a dressing room in the middle of a batting collapse. In more reflective moods, it always reminded me of the upper deck of the Titanic as the great liner started to list critically. Another great roar that threatened to dismantle our dilapidated but much-loved pavilion rent the air. Rice (it should have been me) bowled Proctor, his stumps all askew like a drunken scarecrow Proctor had his hat-trick and now had taken four wickets in five balls. We were 18-4 and 180 seemed a long way away.


I went to pick up my bat and cap, but Nigel Cowley was already down the steps and out onto the pitch. He took guard and waited as the Gloster Meteor came hurtling down the runway. The noise from the West Countrymen if anything rose a few more decibels to a crescendo as Proctor released the ball to thump into Nigel’s pads a fraction of a second later. The appeal was not from eleven throats but six thousand. It looked plumb from we were watching. It looked even plumber to bowler, wicket-keeper and slips. Tom Spencer, the umpire, gave a long look, straightened up and shook his head. “Not out!” Nigel went about a spot of guilty gardening while the Gloucestershire players stood about, incredulity stretched across their faces. Later, Nigel admitted that it had been “close” – this from a man who was never out. Tom Spencer privately admitted that it probably was out but that he couldn’t, he just couldn’t, give three LBWs in one over.


In fact, Cowley proceeded to play a wonderful innings, a counterattack of great bravery and resourcefulness, but a Hampshire victory was never on the cards. When I did eventually find my way to the crease, the run rate was out of reach and the cause hopeless. I did not get out to Proctor; it was another fast bowler, Brian Brain, who did for me and who poignantly died just a couple of weeks before his team-mate.


I did not know Mike Proctor except as an opponent – you tend not to seek out opposition fast bowlers for a pint in the pavilion after a game – but I did meet him, together with his old mucker, Barry Richards, not so long ago at the Newlands Test match in Cape Town. A little gingerly, I brought up the topic of apartheid and South Africa’s 20-year isolation from international sport, which had allowed him, one of the great all-rounders of the age, only seven Tests, as it had restricted my team-mate, Barry, the greatest batsman of the age, to only four Tests. Proccy was cheerfully sanguine about it. “My loss pales into insignificance,” he said, “compared to the wrongs done to the black and the coloured communities. No, being banned was a good thing. It brought about change.” I admired him for that and immediately forgave him – almost – for denying us our day in the sun at HQ.

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