“There’s a big difference between a very poor pitch and a dangerous pitch. But I think the beauty of what’s happened is no one’s complained. The players haven’t complained even though the pitches have been poor, they’ve just got on and done the job.”

The timing of Mike Procter’s arrival at the Wanderers press box couldn’t have been much better. On Saturday, the former South African Test cricketer and a well-renowned match referee (now retired), came here to promote his autobiography, ‘Caught in the middle’. Well, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know the views of a former ICC match official like Procter regarding the entire Wanderers pitch controversy.

Following a dramatic Friday evening, when ongoing South Africa vs India Test match was called off for the day due to poor pitch conditions, we, the journalists, who are covering this series, were checking the rulebooks for the necessary protocols of the umpires and the match referee in such situations. In the post-day press conference, we were being told by both the teams that the final decision on the game lies in the assessment of the match officials. And eventually, they decided to go ahead with the game.

For any match official, situations like the one we have experienced at the Wanderers, are quite tricky. Players’ safety is always the primary issue, but at the end of the day, the game should not suffer as well. Having handled such tricky situations as a match referee, Proctor knows what exactly the umpires and match referee does under these circumstances and he explained that during a chat with us.

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“I think actually what happened yesterday was very unfortunate. At the end of the day, you are going to get a lot of criticism from both ways, and that’s going to be debated over, but I think the umpires at the end of the day made the right decision. It was a situation where there were a few dangerous deliveries as we know. At what stage is it totally dangerous to call the match off? You could have said that earlier in the day’s play, later in the day, maybe there was a question mark. Because at the end of the day good to have mutual discussions.

“India have batted in their second innings and batted extremely well. In fact, they have shown a lot of character and guts in this series, really have done very well. I think they deserve a chance to [to force a victory] because they have batted in the second innings, it hasn’t deteriorated that much more when South Africa batted. They deserve a chance to play here and win a Test match for India,” Procter said.

Procter told us. according to ICC protocols, in such situations, the match officials take the final call, irrespective of whether both the teams want to play or not.

Mike Procter. Image Courtesy: Sandipan Banerjee

“[Following consultations with two on-field umpires] The final call in this situation is that of the match referee, he is the man in-charge of the match,” the 71-year old mentioned. “He should go to both teams and try to get the right result. Obviously, the match referee relies on umpires because the umpires are the decision makers on the field of play. In that situation I will say that umpires are in control because they are the controlling party, they are assessing the match from the first-hand point of view. But in that situation, they would have also come to the match referee and discussed what’s the protocol to follow.”

Meanwhile, Procter rates this Wanderers pitch as ‘poor’ but he believes that it is not ‘dangerous’ either.

“Well it’s not totally different, matches have been called off because of dangerous play. This is a little bit different because it was dangerous, but not up to a point where it was like the one in the Caribbean [West Indies vs England, Jamaica 1998]. Because wicket there was very bad, so I was in that situation. But in this situation, it was close to dangerous. As I said, again it’s in the hand of umpires because they are on the field of play. Match referee has got no jurisdiction over what happens on the field of play, that’s up to two umpires out there. After that, the match referee comes into play, and I think umpires did it correctly because we have got the time in the game as well.”

Procter also thinks that umpires have done the right thing by buying time here.

“You know if it was only a day left or three-quarters of a day, things may have been different. I think common sense prevails in cricket, having situations like this. This happens because you can’t make rules for a situation where 3 O’clock in the afternoon, the fifth ball took off and the first one happened in the morning. You can’t do that, you just assess the situation, I think they assessed it well.”

“You discuss it with batters. Maybe by about tea-time, the pitch deteriorated a bit. But there’s obvious concern. And if there is a concern, the sooner you come out and say it, the better. The end result is going to be the thing that counts. I don’t think anyone can criticise the fact that the match referee spoke to both management to see how they assess the situation. I think the more open you are about these kinds of things, the better,” the former fast bowler further added.

So, what happens, if under such circumstances, both captains want to play?

“I think common sense would prevail, I know where, ok not Test-level but County cricket where captains want to play and the umpires say it might be dangerous and if the two captains, accept the fact that it’s dangerous and they want to play, I think common sense prevails and you play,” he explained.

Procter also explained us the procedure of how pitches like these are being rated by the ICC.

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“Is a dangerous pitch at the Wanderers as good as an unplayable pitch somewhere in India where the ball is turning square and bouncing high? It’s a ‘feel’ situation. I don’t think you can go with, ‘On Day 1 if the ball does this…’ because there are so many variations in a cricket match,” he said.

“A cricket pitch changes from one day to the next – if there’s cloud cover or not if it’s had covers on for a long time or a short time. Then you’ve got to go and note down every little thing. ‘Oh, we took those covers off two hours before. Or we only took them off ten minutes before.’ That’s why I think it’s a ‘feel’ situation that the umpires and match referees must have for the game. And you assess the situation. A poor pitch is a poor pitch. You can explain if it’s poor, or dangerous.

Finally, before signing off and heading towards the commentary room for a promotional event, he said that the best thing happened here is that both teams have shown guts to play on this pitch.

“There’s a big difference between a very poor pitch and a dangerous pitch. But I think the beauty of what’s happened is no one’s complained. The players haven’t complained even though the pitches have been poor, they’ve just got on and done the job.”


Well, thanks to the decision of the umpires, at the end we are being treated with a wonderful finish to the game and the series.

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