South African fielding legend Colin Bland passed away on Saturday at the age of 80.
The Bulawayo-born all-rounder, regarded as one of the best fielders the country has ever produced, passed away on 14 April after suffering from colon cancer for several years.
Bland played 21 Tests for South Africa, making his debut against New Zealand in 1961. He scored 1,669 runs at an average of 49.08, which included nine fifties and three centuries.
But it wasn’t with the bat where Bland shone, his speed and agility in the field earned him high praise. His fielding earned him a spot in the Test side who toured Australia in 1964.
Former South African Test cricketer Ali Bacher described the quality of his former teammate in an interview with IOL.
‘Fielding for us used to just consist of 15 minutes of catching and throwing, but Colin would spend hours and hours practising by himself, chasing a ball, picking it up, turning and throwing at the stumps. We’d watch him and would think, “he was from a different planet”.
‘It was a case of come and watch Graeme Pollock bat and Colin field, he was amazing’
According to Bacher, Proteas fielding legend Jonty Rhodes had been compared to the late Bland.
‘Jonty used to huff and puff, almost bulldozer like in the field. Colin was very different, he was incredibly graceful, sheer poetry in motion. He was magic.’
As a batsman, Bland scored his maiden century in the final Test during the tour to Australia in 1964, which helped South Africa draw the match and the series at 1-1.
His other two centuries came against England in 1965, which helped South Africa claim a first series win in England. Bland was also named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1966.
Bland formed part of the victorious 1966-67 home series squad against Australia, but he suffered an international career-ending injury in Johannesburg after crashing into a boundary board during that series which damaged his left knee.
He then continued playing first-class cricket for Free State until 1973. He played 131 first-class matches, scoring 7,249 runs at an average of 37.95. This included 13 centuries and 34 half-centuries.
‘He was a big-match player, he needed those big events, he thrived in those types of atmospheres,’ added Bacher. ‘He wasn’t a prolific cutter or puller, but he drove the ball extremely, he was a beautiful player off the front foot, through the off and onside.’
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