Avatar photo

By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

Mike Procter: big racing fan (and handy cricketer)

The great allrounder loved the gee-gees – just like his brother Anton.

Michael John Procter was a one-in-a-million cricketer but he had one major failing: he was mad for horse racing. Amid all the dazzling bowling and batting statistics trotted out in innumerable tributes and obituaries, there is little mention of the great man’s other passion.

I remember seeing and talking to “Proc” at Greyville racecourse in the ’60s and ’70s, where he was a familiar figure, intently studying his form guide and happy to chat to fellow racegoers about what might win the next race – though not so much about the form of teammates in the Natal cricket team.

He owned racehorses at various times, often in partnerships, with the 2012 Grade 2 Post Merchants winner Mike’s Choice, trained by Muis Roberts, probably his most successful runner.

In the Procter family

He grew up in a racing-keen family in Durban and his older brother Anton – also a first-class cricketer in his youth – went on to become a bookmaker and then a successful thoroughbred breeder in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Anton, who died two years ago, worked at the championship-winning Summerhill Stud of Mickey Goss and other establishments, including in Zimbabwe. He eventually ran his own boutique stud, Burwell, near Howick. He was instrumental in importing to South Africa the successful stallion Rakeen – one of the last sons of the legendary Northern Dancer.

My first encounter with Mike Procter was on the verdant sporting fields of Hilton College, where he was schooled (though not I). We weren’t actually on the same cricket field, but on adjacent ones. He was hitting sixes from the main pitch onto our field with such regularity that it was putting our teenage lives in danger. A spotter was put in place to alert us “lighties” to cover our heads as another red leather bomb descended from the sky.

In 2020, along with former champion jockey Anthony Delpech, Procter was made a “brand ambassador” for Hollywoodbets, the rags-to-riches Durban bookmaking firm started by Owen Heffer.

The company’s myriad brand sponsorships cover the KZN racecourses, women’s soccer, men’s rugby and several stadia – including Kingsmead on Durban’s Old Fort Road, the stage for many of Proc’s mighty cricketing deeds.

Heart trouble

Hollywoodbets and the Mike Procter Foundation have been working in tandem in sports coaching in deprived areas of KZN. During the pandemic, they delivered tonnes of food to needy people. Mike’s face beamed with pride and joy when he talked of these things.

When he first suffered heart trouble a while back, the media pictured him recovering in his hospital bed with the latest Winning Form racing guides in hand.

Sadly, another round of heart surgery was not successful and the great man died aged 77 at the weekend.

He will be remembered as a magnificent cricketer – among the handful of best allrounders to have played the game – but also as a good-natured, easygoing guy, proud but modest – and sick for the gee-gees.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac has all the stats, but it’s hard to resist mentioning the following:

Only 11 men in the history of first-class cricket have scored a century and got a hat-trick in the same match — Only one has done it twice.

In all, MJP took four hat-tricks in his career; he took 1,417 first-class wickets at 19.53; took 10 wickets in a match 15 times and five in a match 70 times; took 344 one-day wickets at 18,76; and scored 21,936 first-class runs at 36.01, with 48 hundreds and a highest score of 254.

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits