February 9, 2000

Colin Bland - a profile

Alwyn Pichanick

Following a request for information from one of our readers, Beverly Treml of the United Kingdom, we are very grateful to Alwyn Pichanick, a past president of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and during Colin's career for Rhodesia frequently a selector and manager of the national team, for his willingness to write an article about Colin, whom he knew well.

Colin Bland was born and schooled in Bulawayo in 1938. He showed immense talent as a schoolboy, representing Rhodesian Schools at the Nuffield tournament, and was also selected for the South African Schools team.

He made his first-class debut for Rhodesia immediately after leaving school, in February 1957 at eighteen years of age. Rhodesia was heavily defeated by England in his debut match, but Colin gave a glimpse of his batting talent, notwithstanding that his team was dismissed for two very low scores. His debut was, however, sensational in that he revealed from the outset his uncanny fielding ability which was subsequently to make him so famous.

After a short spell at Rhodes University he returned home, and by 1961 he was already being spoken of as a candidate for the South African Test team against New Zealand, who were touring South Africa and Rhodesia that season, and it will be recollected that in those days Rhodesians were eligible to play Test cricket for South Africa. The Rhodesian fixtures against New Zealand took place before the Test series against South Africa commenced, and Colin's performances in the first first-class matches which Rhodesia played against the tourists, including an innings of 98 in Bulawayo, ensured his selection for the forthcoming Test series.

He played in all five Tests during that series, making a useful contribution with the bat without really establishing himself in that department. However, his fielding was so outstanding that even in those early days spectators were attending matches in which he was playing just to see him field.

He was subsequently selected for South Africa's next international obligation, which was a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1963/64. After missing the First Test against Australia as a result of indifferent form in the matches leading up to that encounter, he was selected for the Second Test where he made substantial contributions with the bat. He continued to prosper throughout the series and finished up with a century in the last Test. From that time he was a regular member of South African Test teams, playing in the series against New Zealand immediately following that against Australia, and thereafter against England in South Africa in 1964/65, and immediately after that in England in 1965.

His Test career ended tragically at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in the First Test against Australia in 1966/67, when he crashed into a boundary fence while chasing the ball, badly damaging his left knee. He finished his Test career with a magnificent batting record of 1669 runs at an average of 49.08. He scored three Test centuries, two against England and his first as already mentioned against Australia.

During his career he became acknowledged as the greatest fielder of all time up to that date. He was nicknamed 'the Golden Eagle' for the way in which he swooped on balls in the field and returned them with unerring accuracy to the wicket-keeper. He also had an uncanny ability to score direct hits on the wicket after throwing whilst running at full pace. His most famous dismissals were at Lord's against England in 1965 when both Jim Parks and Ken Barrington were run out with direct hits at the bowler's end from midwicket with throws made while Colin was running towards the wicket-keeper's end. These two dismissals were, in fact, the turning point of that South African tour of England and the series, which South Africa won one-nil.

Colin achieved many other fantastic run-outs, particularly from cover, where he often hit the wicket-keeper's stumps from a side-on position when he only had one stump to aim at. Another tactic which was often employed because of his brilliance was to place mid-off much deeper than normal, and when the batsman struck what looked like a safe single towards mid-off Colin would cut across from cover and throw down the bowler's wicket.

Colin is a very undemonstrative person and he was always embarrassed by the adulation he received for his fielding exploits. As a result he often refused exhibitions which he was invited to give to demonstrate his unusual ability. On one occasion, however, he was persuaded to perform an exhibition in England before a large crowd, who were fascinated by his wonderful demonstration of stretching while at full pace, picking up the ball and throwing down a single stump while still on the move.

He was also a very good catcher of the ball, and when he continued to play first-class cricket after his knee injury and his retirement from Test cricket he made himself into a magnificent slip fielder. His greatest value to the team, however, was in the cover or midwicket position, where he was able to field much deeper than normal and his mere presence caused batsmen to turn down apparently safe runs for fear they would be dismissed.

He was also outstanding on the boundary because he had such a powerful arm, and his throws from eighty metres which travelled the whole distance at the level of the bails was nothing short of miraculous. As a batsman he was at times a shaky starter, but once in he was a magnificent driver of the ball and a frequent hitter of straight sixes.

Perhaps the best innings he ever played was when he was captaining Rhodesia in the Currie Cup competition after his retirement from Test cricket. He scored 197 in about three hours in a low-scoring match against Border in East London on a sub-standard wicket which he made light of in contrast to the other gifted batsmen in that match who struggled with the vagaries of the surface. He was also a very useful medium-fast right-arm bowler who was probably underused.

Colin was such an athlete that he could have played any sport successfully. He decided to concentrate on cricket at an early age, after he had already been offered a rugby scholarship to Stellenbosch University, and he represented his country at hockey with great distinction.

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