CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1966

Colin Bland

England were 240 for four wickets and heading for a match-winning lead against South Africa at Lord's when KF Barrington, who was 91, played perhaps the most fateful stroke in the 1965 Test series. He pushed the ball to mid-wicket and scampered down the pitch. Colin Bland ran towards the square-leg umpire. In one thrilling movement he scooped up the ball, swung round his body and threw down the stumps at the bowler's end. The run-out of Barrington, which was followed by Bland's performing a similar feat against JM Parks, was the turning point in the 1965 Test matches. England never again won a commanding position and eulogies of the lean, rangy Rhodesian elevated his singular skill to the realm of legend.

Spectators went especially to see him perform. The general standard of the South Africans' fielding did not match that of some of their predecessors, but the expertise of Bland more than made up for other individual shortcomings. Yet when all due homage is paid to his exceptional prowess it must be said that Britain did not see the best of Bland, either in fielding or batting.

He reached his pinnacle in the first Test at Lord's but he made more wide throws and misfields than are usual for him. He was rarely placed near the boundary where his remarkable long and accurate throw is seen to best advantage. No mock modesty prompted him to say, "All this publicity has been embarrassing. Apart from Lord's I haven't equalled my standard at home." Nor, until one memorable occasion, did he recapture the judgement and discrimination that distinguished him as South Africa's outstanding batsman during the MCC tour of 1964-65.

If Bland demonstrated that fielding can be both a delight and an exhilarating spectacle through scientific precision he also put his own distinct stamp on batting through his readiness to loft the ball. It is not uncommon for his innings to be prefaced by an early six as if to proclaim that this is a Bland production. He shared with Graeme Pollock the accomplishment of hitting thirteen 6's on the tour. His penchant for lifting the the ball, particularly in the arc between long-off and long-on, was often his downfall. He scored 94 in his third match against Essex and top score of 70 in the second innings of the first Test at Lord's, but had several periods of lean performance until he came to re-establish his status at the Oval.

With a patience that must have irked all his natural inclinations be resisted conscientiously the urge to put the ball in the air for the best part of his innings of 127. When he passed his century he could no longer tolerate the imposition of restraint and enjoying good luck as he hit with abandon he recorded the highest individual score of the series. His eleventh hour success raised him to second place in South Africa's Test averages - 47.66 from 286 runs - but he failed by 94 to reach the 1,000-run target which seemed well within his compass when he left home.

He was christened KENNETH COLIN BLAND and was born in Bulawayo on April 5, 1938, his grand-parent being Scots. When, at the age of seven, he showed a flair for cricket at the Baines Junior School his father, who had played representative cricket for Matabeland, took him in hand. In regular evening sessions he threw the ball while Colin batted on their home verandah. The lad appeared for four years in the junior first team - the last two as captain. At Milton where he played Rugby and Hockey he was also captain of cricket.

When he was sixteen and chosen for the Nuffield Schools Week his father started him on fielding practice which in later years he continued five times a week. His first big impact on cricket came when he was eighteen and made top scores of 19 and 38 in each innings for Rhodesia against PBH May's MCC team. He had a brief tour to England with the Fezealeas in 1961.

His best score in nine Test innings against New Zealand at home was only 42 and his selection for Australasia was questioned.

He was omitted from the first Test but developed so strikingly that he scored 126 against Australia at Sydney in the fifth match. His finest season followed in South Africa when he gathered an unsurpassed 572 runs for an average of 71.50 in the best innings of his career in scoring 144 not out in the second match in Johannesburg after South Africa had followed on.

No one could be more dedicated than Bland to the game he has embellished both in fielding and batting. "I live for cricket," he said once, "I'd play every day if I could." - LD.

© John Wisden & Co