Chris Wilkins, the original pinch-hitter, dies aged 74

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Chris Wilkins, the former South African provincial and county opening batsman, has died at the age of 74. Cricket South Africa announced Wilkins' death "with shock and sadness" on Tuesday morning.

An aggressive opening batsman who could also bowl nippy medium pace, Wilkins represented Border, Eastern Province and Natal in a career that spanned nearly 20 years. Wilkins settled in KwaZulu-Natal after his retirement, becoming a farmer in the Harding district. He had been in deteriorating health for some time.

During his playing days, Wilkins also had a stint with Derbyshire in the County Championship, and in all scored 10,966 first-class runs, including 18 centuries, and took 142 wickets. He was also an excellent fielder, often keeping wicket when he wasn't bowling, or standing at slip.

It was, however, as a limited-overs cricketer that he made his biggest impact during his time with Eastern Province. His ability to hit the fastest of bowlers over mid-on and mid-off made him a feared competitor.

In an interview with The Cricket Monthly in 2017, legendary South African fast bowler Garth Le Roux made special mention of Wilkins' positively modern approach to batting.

"One or two batsmen hit me back over my head for six," he said. "Viv Richards did it once or twice, but the player who tried it most often was Chris Wilkins. He was particularly good at it. He'd move right back on his stumps and hit straight. This also gave him more time to hook and pull anything a bit short. He was the most annoying batsman to bowl at."

On Twitter, former South Africa spinner Pat Symcox commented: "Sad to hear of the passing of possibly one of South Africa's most attacking batsmen ever. An opening bowler's nightmare. Chris Wilkins was a legend."

Wilkins transferred his pinch-hitting skills to first-class cricket, forming a formidable opening partnership for Eastern Province with Simon Bezuidenhout. On one occasion Wilkins scored a century in just over an hour and the pair managed to secure a bonus batting point before the lunch interval. With Currie Cup bonus batting points allocated for surpassing set team totals, this would have meant that the pair must have scored at least 175.

"On behalf of the CSA Family I extend our deepest condolences to his family, his friends and his many cricketing colleagues," CSA Chief Executive Thabang Moroe said.