Be it the 2006 forfeit at The Oval between England and Pakistan, or the infamous Monkeygate scandal of 2008, Mike Procter saw it all during his six-year tenure as an International Cricket Council match referee. The former South African allrounder officiated in 47 Tests, 154 One-Day Internationals and 15 Twenty20 Internationals before standing down from his position to take up a new role as Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) convener of selectors.
Not new to controversies, Procter spoke to Wisden India about the ongoing four-match Test series between South Africa and Australia which has been overshadowed by velitation, both on and off the field. The 71-year-old, who could only play seven Tests for South Africa due to the isolation of the country given its government’s policy of Apartheid, also shed light on the demerit points system and why it’s crueler to the bowlers. Excerpts:
How much has the role of a match referee changed since your days?
I was once told that you are the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the match, and the roles and responsibilities that you have as a match referee are quite similar to the ones that the CEO of a company performs. I think that’s the best way to explain the role of a referee. You are the man-in-charge and if anything big goes down, it’s your burden. They have got quite a real and vital role to play. They can do whatever they like to control the situation. The role of a match referee starts even before the on-field action commences.
I don’t think the role of a referee has changed a lot since my days, but what did change after that entire Harbhajan Singh saga went down was, if a player has been sanctioned under Level 3 or Level 4 for his offence, the decision will then be evaluated by someone higher than a match referee, someone from the cricket council or a judge. Also, now you have this new thing called demerit points system. I think it’s quite good. You need to have proper rules and regulations for everyone involved in the game.
Talking about the demerit points system, what’s your take on it?
I think it’s pretty good and I am all up for it. The points stay on for two years, which I think is tough on players. But at the same time, with the amount of cricket being played, it’s important to have some structure.
I don’t know how things work in India, but in countries like South Africa, England or Australia, you get demerit points on your driver’s licence for misdemeanours. It can be for parking, speeding, drunk driving or anything. In the end, you might get banned for two years despite your last offence being something very piddling – like parking on a loading zone. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to (Kagiso) Rabada. He almost ended up paying for the mistakes he made a while ago. I don’t think he made any ‘intentional’ body contact with (Steven) Smith. Thankfully, the ban was rightly overturned.
Do you think it’s too rigid, leaving referees with no flexibility to consider the context of the case?
No, I think the match referees have enough flexibility. I think they have got enough freedom to come up with a decision that they feel is right. It’s a very high position to be in and it’s their job to make sure that the decisions they are taking are correct, and are well-backed by facts. You are not there to please anybody, you are there to do your job. But yes, you have to follow the ICC regulations and act as such.
Rabada received three demerit points for brushing Smith’s shoulder, and so did David Warner for his stairwell incident with Quinton de Kock. How does one put these two completely different incidents under the same bracket?
In a situation like this, it’s up to the match referee or umpires to decide what they feel is right. Under those circumstances, he might have viewed both of these as similar incidents. The video that was circulated during the stairwell outburst doesn’t really reflect the complete picture. All these things must have been taken into account. You can’t have a rigid system saying this should be under Level 1 or 2 or 3. It’s up to the match referee to decide and I know for the fact that Jeff Crowe is a very good match referee.
Shakib Al Hasan was only fined 25% of his match fee for almost forfeiting the game against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded Nidahas Trophy.
Every situation is completely different. Unlike the 2006 forfeited Oval Test (England v Pakistan), this game went on. I am not really sure what went down there but if the match wasn’t forfeited, that’s the end of the story. If they would have forfeited it, then it would have been a different story. The sanction sounds fine to me.
Does a referee look at individual cases more dimly because of the player’s past record?
Absolutely. That what happens most of the time. I used to do that. For example, when Harbhajan Singh was sanctioned for making racial remarks – the case was then forwarded to the judge who didn’t go through all of his past misbehaviours. If he would have, he might have taken things differently. I think it was after that tour, when he smashed one of his Indian teammates (S Sreesanth) during the T20 league (Indian Premier League 2008). Again, this is where ICC’s demerit points system comes handy as it helps you to reflect on a player’s past record.
But don’t you think it will become harder for Test cricket to retain the audience if star players are suspended on a frequent basis?
That’s pretty obvious, for sure. But you can’t have star players like Rabada or Warner behave badly and fall under the laws of ICC. That’s just tough! The laws are the same for all the players. You don’t want to get into a situation saying just because he is a star player and everyone wants to watch him, he can get away after committing an offence.
Are the rules harsher on bowlers?
To be honest, it’s particularly tough on the fast bowlers. You are bowling somewhere around 20 overs a day, you do get tired and frustrated. The pacers do react to certain things. Most of the celebrations that come out after the dismissal are natural, and you expect that from them. That’s what Test cricket is all about. When I say it’s harder on them… I mean, if you are a batsman, it’s pretty obvious that you are not going to do too much wrong. Not many times you see a batsman getting demerit points while batting.
Moving on, should referees be given a platform for explaining their decisions to a wider audience?
Yeah, I am all up for it. Match referees should always be available to talk. I have always been a believer in fronting up to the media. If you open up all your cards after you come up with a certain decision, there will be no grey areas left to be speculated.
Lastly, is it the right time to upgrade ICC’s rulebook?
The rules are there, and it’s not too strict or rigid. These days, everyone knows what they can or can’t do. If they still go for it, they are also aware of the fact that they will get punished. I don’t think it needs an upgrade, it looks fine to me.