Colin Bland has been described as a cricketing revolutionary for the way in which he elevated fielding, by former teammate, Ali Bacher.
Bland, 80, died at his home in London on Saturday night, after a lengthy illness. Often cited as one of the greatest fielders the game has seen, Bacher said Bland took fielding seriously at a time when it was largely viewed as a by product of the sport. “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’,” Bacher remarked.
Bland, who was born in Bulawayo, played 21 Tests for South Africa between 1961 and 1966, and was part of the side that became the first from this country to win a Test series in England in 1965.
So good was Bland, that according to Bacher, many spectators during that tour, would just come and watch him in field.
“It was a case of come and watch Graeme Pollock bat and Colin field, he was amazing.”
Comparisons have been drawn with Jonty Rhodes. “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.”
Bacher pointed to two key moments during the first Test of the 1965 England tour at Lord’s, which proved critical in that series’s outcome. “We didn’t make a lot in our first innings (280) and Ken Barrington, a very good player, was looking comfortable on 91 in their first innings. He was facing at the Pavilion End and knocked the ball towards square leg, Colin, ran from midwicket, picked the ball up, turned, threw and hit the stumps at the Nursery End, to run (Barrington) out. During the same innings he ran out their wicket-keeper Jim Parks by throwing the ball between (Bland’s) legs as he was running. It was amazing. It helped us turn the fortunes of that Test series around,” Bacher recalled.
South Africa drew that Test and won the second to claim an historic series win.
Because his fielding was world renowned many often forgot what a fine batsman Bland was too. Despite a first class average of just 37.95, he was still picked of the South African side and thrived at Test level, averaging 49.08 in 39 innings.
“He was a big match player, he needed those big events, he thrived in those types of atmospheres,” said 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 on side.”
Bacher said Bland played a critical part in his development as an international player too, describing a chat the pair had on a bus trip during that tour in ‘65.
“I’d made five and five in the tour game against Derbyshire and was dropped from the side for the next match against Yorkshire. I was really down in the dumps. After the Yorkshire game we headed back to London, and I was really depressed, just sat by myself on the bus. Colin saw this and came over and we chatted for an hour, I can’t remember the exact detail of what he said, but he saved me, he really did, he just lifted my confidence.”