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This picture taken on June 26, 2008 shows ICC match referee for the ongoing Asia Cup, Mike Procter walking back to the pavillion after the toss for the Group A match between Sri Lanka and UAE at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Image Credit: AFP

Durban: Long-time friend and teammate Barry Richards said “a giant has fallen” as he paid tribute to former South African all-rounder Mike Procter, who died aged 77 near Durban on Saturday.

“We were part of each other’s lives,” said Richards of his 65-year friendship with Procter.

Richards and Procter, acknowledged as two of South Africa’s greatest cricketers, played against each other as schoolboys and went on to play together for the Natal province and South Africa at both junior and international level.

“Anyone who played for Natal, Rhodesia and Gloucestershire in the 1960s and 70s knew that they were in the presence of a genius,” said Richards.

Careers cut short

Procter and Richards teamed up for four Tests, starring for South Africa as they won all four matches against Australia in 1969-70 before their international careers were cut short by the international isolation caused by South Africa’s apartheid policy.

Vintcent van der Bijl, who formed a devastating new ball partnership for Natal with Procter, described his former teammate as “the most unpretentious great cricketer I knew.”

Van der Bijl, a former International Cricket Council head of umpires and match referees, said Procter was “a warrior on the field”.

“He played the game tough and yet amateur in spirit. He used to end every pre-game session by saying, ‘Let’s go and have some fun.’ He played the game as it should always be played. It was a real privilege to play with and against him.”

Procter was South Africa’s first coach when that period of international isolation ended in 1991.

Fast bowler Allan Donald made his international debut under him.

“I learnt a lot from him. Just to listen to him was an experience. He made me aware of what was needed to have the mentality of a fast bowler,” he said.

Outstanding cricketer

Ali Bacher, former managing director of South African cricket, captained Procter in the series against Australia.

“He was one of the most outstanding cricketers that South Africa has produced. He bowled fast, swinging deliveries and as a batsman was good enough to have batted at number five for any country in the world,” he said.

Cricket South Africa president Rihan Richards described Procter as “not just a giant on the field but a beacon of hope and inspiration off it.”

Dolphins Cricket, formerly the Natal Cricket Union, said in a statement that Procter’s “legacy will endure as an inspiration for generations to come.”

“His career as a world-class cricketer was outstanding, his leadership prowess was noteworthy and his role as a cricket administrator and coach was remarkable.”

Gloucestershire County Cricket Club announced it would fly its flag at half-mast until the start of the English county season as a tribute to the man who played in 482 matches for the club and was captain from 1977 to 1981.