Northamptonshire County Cricket Club has learned with sadness of the death of Mike Procter – the club’s first Director of Cricket – at the age of 77.

One of the most exciting all-rounders in the world during the 1960s and 1970s, scoring nearly 22,000 runs and taking more than 1,400 wickets in first-class cricket, Mike called time on his playing career in 1989. In September 1990 he came to Wantage Road to discuss a potential role with the club, and was duly appointed Northamptonshire’s Director of Cricket on a three-year contract from the start of the 1991 season.

‘He will guide, control and direct the club’s cricketing activities, working closely with the captain (Allan Lamb) and coach (Bob Carter),’ explained Chairman Lynn Wilson at the time. ‘This decision has been made after months of consideration and discussion, and the experiences of other counties – 14 of them having made similar appointments – were noted with interest.

‘It was felt essential that a consistent, regular non-playing influence should be present, helping the playing staff. The committee is delighted to appoint a cricketing personality, not only of international reputation and renown but with such enthusiasm and commitment to what will clearly be a demanding and crucial role.’

With long experience of county cricket as a player with Gloucestershire between 1965 and 1981, Mike himself looked forward to the ‘marvellous opportunity’ on offer and praised the ‘progressive and ambitious’ character of the club. But he also regretted the ‘negative approach and lack of imagination’ evident from some teams around the county circuit – a way of playing the game that was anathema to him and Lamb alike.

The 1991 season was something of a mixed bag for Northamptonshire – a modest improvement in the Championship record, third place and a play-off spot in the Sunday League, a run to the semi-finals of the NatWest Trophy only to lose to Surrey in heartbreaking fashion at The Oval and defeat at Old Trafford in the B&H Cup quarters. But the progress made by the likes of Alan Fordham, Tony Penberthy and Andy Roberts, plus the signing of Paul Taylor, whetted the appetite for the following season.

In July 1991, the I.C.C. announced at Lord’s that South Africa had been readmitted to the international cricket scene after an absence of 21 years.

Mike gave an interview that same morning to BBC Radio Northampton (recorded in the car park at the rear of the old indoor school, now the Ken Turner Stand) with both questioner and questioned trying hard to keep emotions in check.

It always seemed likely that Mike – whose Test career as a player was restricted to seven matches before his country’s sporting isolation – would have a part to play in the Proteas’ set-up as their new era dawned, but he returned to Northampton in 1992 for what would prove a memorable and successful summer.

Northamptonshire lifted the NatWest Trophy at Lord’s in September, defeating Leicestershire by eight wickets to secure the club’s first major silverware since 1980. ‘To win a trophy for Northamptonshire meant a great deal to me, especially when I realised just how much the success meant to the players and supporters,’ said a delighted Director of Cricket.

In addition, third place in the County Championship – with eight victories – represented the County’s highest finish in the premier competition for 16 years. Fordham notched nearly 1,700 Championship runs and Taylor, voted player of the season, claimed 68 wickets.

It would prove, though, Mike’s farewell to Northamptonshire. Almost inevitably, South Africa came calling and offered him the task of managing the national side. Although he still had a year left on his contract at Wantage Road, he was released with the club’s blessing. Lynn Wilson paid tribute to his ‘highly significant contribution’ over two seasons, pointing out that his appointment with the Proteas ‘fully endorses Northamptonshire’s own judgement as to his ability and stature within the game.’

Mike always loved to talk cricket – a fact that could mean previews and post-match interviews turning into lengthy affairs! No surprise that he later turned his hand to commentating. But his passion and positivity endeared him to all at the County Ground, and his strong working relationship with Lamb and Carter – as envisaged at the time of his appointment – brought a welcome taste of success.

The club offers sincere condolences to Mike’s family and to his many friends around the world.

Words from Club Archivist, Andrew Radd.