Durban: Former ICC match referee Mike Procter, who had imposed a three-match ban on Harbhajan Singh following the Monkeygate scandal in the 2008 Sydney Test between India and Australia, regrets what had happened then but insists he would not have handled it any differently.
Procter was match referee for the infamous Test, in which Harbhajan was reportedly found guilty of making a racist comment to Australian allrounder Andrew Symonds.
"I regret what happened. I wouldn't have handled it any different. Saw that whole hearing. Match referee isn't a judge. A lot of things had happened. The word racist wasn't comfortable, no one was comfortable with it either.
"It happened to Australia in India as well. I had to do what I honestly had to do. I couldn't change who was guilty. I was honest to myself. I had to do my job as well. I went to the Indian and Australian dressing rooms. I had to get the balance right," said Procter.
Harbhajan allegedly called Symonds a monkey on the third day of the Test.
Procter ruled at the end of a four-hour hearing that Harbhajan had breached Level 3 of the ICC's Code of Conduct.
The Indian team management then appealed against the ban and charges were subsequently dropped by judge John Hansen.
Procter, who played just seven Tests in his career because of the ban on South Africa, agreed that the episode took a toll on him.
"Yes, it did take a toll as it was too hot for me but then I was offered a job as the chairman of selectors and that's when I sort of changed job," said the 65-year-old.
Procter, meanwhile, said that Gary Kirsten would be able to replicate the success of the Indian team with South Africa.
"He is a good individual. What he did with the Indian team was incredible. He is a humble guy and he helps the players a lot. He manages people very well."
Speaking about the dearth of genuine fast bowlers in world cricket at the moment, Procter said that it is the injuries that are prompting the pacers to cut down on their run-ups.
"We never had problem of over rates. Now there is problem. No one had a run-up like mine. There are no fast bowlers now. Dale (Steyn) isn't an ultra fast bowler. There is no one like Andy Roberts, (Dennis) Lillie and (Jeff) Thompson.
"Sadly, we are into an era where there are no genuine fast bowlers. One of the major reasons for it is injuries. That is why they want the bowlers to cut down on their run-ups. But earlier too we had enormous amount of workload. I remember bowlers bowling almost 800 overs in a county season," explained Procter, who took 41 Test wickets at an incredible average of 15.02.
Agreeing that it was unfortunate that South Africa were banned from playing cricket because of apartheid when he was at the peak of his career, Procter said inflicting defeat on Australia in two successive series 3-1 and 4-0 gave him a lot of satisfaction.
"It was very unfortunate as far as pure cricket is concerned. The fact that Australia had come as champions and we defeated them, was great. To beat a team like them, I would say that we were a special side."
Procter, who is here to take part in the second edition of the World Cricket Legends, a 15-over-a-side exhibition match in the wild between former India and South African players to be held on Tuesday, and organised by Beyond Boundaries, said that it is very special to play against an Indian team comprising players like Kapil Dev.
"This is very special. Peace. Natural ways. India and South Africa have very close relations. Competitive spirit always comes out. We are going to have a great match. We want the comrades to come through. I was quite excited when I heard the idea. It is a challenge to play in the bushes. It is going to be quite exciting," he said.