Around many a bar or kitchen table cricket lovers debate who is the best batsman in the world, the greatest all-rounder, the top spinner and so on. Sometimes the discussions turn to fielding, and the name of Colin Bland is regularly brought up. Bland’s reputation as a cover fielder was such that he almost solely remembered in this capacity. The fact that his fielding remains the primary legacy of his test career is perhaps a shame, as Bland was also a very good batsman. Nonetheless, it does underline what a magnificent fielder he was, as a Test average of nearly 49.06 places him near the elite level for international batsmen.
Christened Kenneth Colin Bland, but always called by his middle name, Colin was born on the 5th of April, 1938 in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. Now known as Zimbabwe, at that time of Colin’s birth Rhodesia was a region of Africa being composed of both modern day Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia) and Zambia (then called Northern Rhodesia). Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing British colony, and aligned itself to nearby South Africa with respect to most sporting activities.
Colin grew up in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Rhodesia. At school, he quickly showed his physical prowess in all sports. Colin revealed a particular talent for ball sports, and excelled as a youngster in cricket, rugby and hockey. He was selected to represent Rhodesia Schools in all three sports at a schoolboy level, and played in the Nuffield Cricket Week tournament in South Africa. His performances as a batsman and medium pace bowler were sufficient to gain him a place in the South African Schools team in his final year.
Near the end of his final year of school, Colin was selected to make his first-class debut in cricket for Rhodesia against the touring M.C.C. side. Colin was picked solely as a batsman in this game, and largely for the experience it would give him before playing domestically in the South African Currie Cup competition. However, he was forced to make a career defining choice at this point of his life. Colin’s rugby skills had been widely recognized, and he had been offered a football scholarship to attend the famous Stellenbosch University. Cricket had been Colin’s first love, and he made the decision to make it his chosen sport.
Colin’s debut match was against the M.C.C., and took place at Salisbury Sports Club on the 23rd, 24th, 25th of November 1956. Colin had plenty of opportunities to show-off his fielding skills during the M.C.C. innings, as they totaled 501, with Peter May making a double century. While he was listed to bat at no. 7, Colin didn’t have long to wait to make his entrance. After losing their first wicket with one run on the board, Rhodesia had progressed steadily to seven, whereupon they lost their next four wickets without adding another run. The sheer pace of Frank Tyson and Peter Loader was proving too much for the Rhodesian players, and soon after Colin arrived at the wicket, they were reduced to 6 for 11. Colin, however, in his debut first class innings, was the only batsman to stand up to the English quicks. He top scored with 19 in Rhodesia’s pitiful total of just 57. With a first innings lead of nearly 450, Peter May must have deliberated long and hard before deciding to enforce the follow-on. Rhodesia’s second attempt was better than their first, but they were still 5 for 47 when Colin went out for his second knock. He again top scored for his side, this time with 38 in Rhodesia’s total of 157. There are not many batsman, and certainly even less 18 year old ones, that can boast top scoring in each innings of their first class debut. In spite of Colin’s efforts, Rhodesia lost by the small margin of an innings and 292 runs.
Colin’s performance won him selection in the Rhodesian team to play against Transvaal in the Currie Cup at the New Wanders Stadium in Johannesburg from the 18th to 21st of January, 1957. Transvaal won the toss and batted first, making 417 largely on the back of the stalwart South African batsman Russell Endean’s 171. In reply, Rhodesia made 212. Again batting at no. 7 Colin made 18 before falling to the part-time leggies of Alastair Taylor. Forced to follow-on, Rhodesia managed to bat out the remainder of the three day game, with Colin coming to the wicket in the final over of the match and he remained 0 not out.
Instead of attending Stellenbosch University, Colin choose Rhodes University at Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. His attendance there led to his third first class game, this time for the combined South African Universities against the North Eastern Transvaal team. This match was played at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 7th, 9th, 10th of December 1957. North Eastern Transvaal won the toss and batted, however, they were bowled out for only 172. Colin came out to bat with South African Universities at 3 for 48. He responded by scoring his initial first class century, finishing with 131 out of the team total of 8 declared for 293. The second top score with just 45 was Peter van der Merwe, who would later go on to captain South Africa in Test matches and also become an ICC match referee. North Eastern Transvaal folded in their second innings for just 122, and South African Universities scored the necessary 3 runs to complete a ten wicket victory.
Colin continued to play for both Rhodesia and South African Universities over the following three seasons. He moved up to no. 4 or no. 5 in the batting lineup, but only met with limited success. It wasn’t until South African Universities played Western Province that Colin scored his second century. The match was played at the Newlands Ground at Capetown from the 3rd to 6th of December, 1960. Colin was by now the captain of the Universities team, and after winning the toss, he scored 124 out of his side’s total of 421. A young Eddie Barlow was also in the Universities side, however, he failed with the bat by scoring only 7. Colin was bowling his right arm medium pacers more often, and he opened the bowling for Universities. He failed to take a wicket in either innings, but it was irrelevant as the other bowlers knocked Western Province over for only 89 and 234 to leave South African Universities the winners by an innings and 98 runs.
When Colin followed his century against Western Province with an unbeaten 130 a few games later for Rhodesia against Griqualand West in early January 1961, his name was started to be considered for national honours with South Africa. His stylish batting was characterized by strong front foot driving, with a penchant to hit the quicker bowlers back down the ground in the air. His medium paced bowling was seen as a useful backup to his batting, and his fielding was starting to gain widespread notice. The South African selectors picked him to tour England with an unofficial team called the South Africa Fezelas under the leadership of Roy McLean. This touring party was later viewed as the starting point of South Africa’s journey to world cricket supremacy. There were eight future Test players in the Fezelas, with four becoming long term test players. In addition to Colin Bland, the touring party also included Eddie Barlow, Peter Pollock and Denis Lindsay. Colin failed to impress with the bat on the tour and didn’t bowl, but he was in the selectors’ mind for national duty.
The New Zealand team toured South Africa in the 1961/62 season, and they commenced their trip through Africa with two first class games against Rhodesia. This opportunity provided Colin with the chance he needed to show his potential at the higher level. In the first match at his home ground at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo on 21st, 22nd and 23rd of October 1961, he scored 91 and 45, and he followed that up with 67 and at the 58 Police A Ground, Salisbury on 28th, 29th and 30th October of 1961. The South African selectors were looking to rebuild the Springbok team, and Colin’s scores were good enough to win him a place in the lineup. Their decision was based more upon potential than performance, but they had seen enough to know that Colin was of international standard as a batsman.
Colin made his test debut for South Africa against New Zealand at the Kingsmead Ground in Durban on the 8th of December 1961. South African captain John Waite won the toss and chose to bat on a difficult pitch. South Africa totaled 292, largely thanks to experienced opener Jackie McGlew who made 127. Coming in at no. 5, Colin made 5 before being caught off Frank Cameron. New Zealand replied with 245. The South Africans struggled in their second innings, making only 149. Waite made 63, and Colin scored a valuable 30, with no-one else passing 15. New Zealand only made 166, to lose by 30 runs.
Colin had done enough to maintain his place for the Second Test at Johannesburg, which was drawn. Colin struggled again, scoring 0 and 24 in his two innings. The Third Test at Capetown saw New Zealand win by 72 runs. Colin made two useful contributions with the bat, with scores of 32 and 42. He also took his first test catch, Zin Harris. Colin’s fielding was gaining rave reviews from those who saw him, and it was stated that even in his early Tests, spectators would specifically watch to see his fielding in the covers.
The series was now tied at 1 match all. The Fourth Test back at Johannesburg saw South Africa triumph by an innings and 51 runs. Colin made another start, scoring 28 in a batting lineup that almost all contributed to the total of 464. New Zealand fought back to win the Fifth Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth by 40 runs. Colin again made starts in both innings, scoring 12 and 32, but it wasn’t enough to prevent New Zealand squaring the series at two tests all.
In March 1962, Colin was selected to play against a Pakistan team for an invitational International XI that was touring the world. He was asked to join this team after it had played two games against Rhodesia. While Colin had batted well without pushing on to a century in either match, his fielding had gained the notice of the International XI. Some of his teammates for the match against the East Pakistan Governor’s XI included Test players Colin McDonald, Roy Marshall, Everton Weeks, Ray Lindwall, Tom Graveney and the great Indian leg-spinner “Fergie” Gupte. After the East Pakistan team had declared at 5-385, Colin performed well for the International XI, top-scoring with 89 from the no. 3 position in a drawn result.
In spite of his average beginnings, and some indifferent form for Rhodesia, Colin was chosen for South Africa’s next international series, the 1963/64 tour of Australia and New Zealand. The lead-up games produced a poor sequence of scores of 3 and 10 not out against Western Australia, 27 and 15 against South Australia, 0 and 40 against an Australian XI, 14 against New South Wales, 52 not out against Tasmania, and 11 against a Tasmanian Combined XI. The failure to score heavily meant that Colin was left out of the First Test team to play at Brisbane. While this match was drawn, Colin was brought back into the team for the New Years Day Second Test at the M.C.G. Australia won by 8 wickets, but Colin made solid contributions to the losing team with 50 and 22.
Colin had started to find his timing on the faster and bouncy Australian wickets, and played well in the drawn Third Test at Sydney. He scored 51 in this first innings, and then held South Africa together with 85 to help his team to a draw. The Fourth Test at Adelaide was won by South Africa by 10 wickets. Colin’s score of 33 was well and truly overshadowed by Eddie Barlow’s 201 and Graeme Pollock’s 175.
Colin had started gaining a reputation in South Africa as a batsman who could make a quick 50, but struggled to go on with it. His scores in the series underlined this point, but he managed to turn this around in the Fifth Test in Sydney. This match, which started on the 7th of February 1964, saw Colin score his first test century, a graceful 126 out of South Africa’s total of 411. It wasn’t enough to force a result, with this match also ending in a draw. South Africa had performed very creditably on this tour, and it was signs of things to come for the team over the next five years.
His century in Sydney now firmly established Colin in the South African middle order. The team moved onto New Zealand for the second stage of their tour. The First Test at the Basin Reserve, Wellington on 21st, 22nd, 24th and 25th of February 1964 finished in a draw. South Africa made most of the running in the game on a very slow and unresponsive pitch. The game had started on schedule, in spite of anti-apartheid demonstrators attempts to damage the pitch. Colin scored 40 in the first innings, and a very quick 46 not out in 47 minutes in the second innings with captain Trevor Goddard looking to make a declaration. The weather affected Second Test at Carisbrook also ended in a draw. Late on the final day, South Africa were set 65 to win in only 27 minutes. After only scoring 1 in the first innings, Colin was promoted to open in the mad run chase. He scored 16 not out, with South Africa falling just short, making 3 for 42 off the 7 overs available to them.
The English M.C.C. team toured South Africa in 1964/65. South Africa were soundly beaten in the First Test at Durban on the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th of December 1964. In response to England’s 485, Colin scored 26 in South Africa’s team total of just 155. Forced to follow-on, South Africa did little better, making only 226. Colin again showed his value with the bat, top scoring with 68.
The Second Test at the New Wanderers Ground finished in a draw. England again batted first, making another huge total of 531. South Africa again failed to make the follow-on mark, being bowled out for 317 with Colin making another disappointing 29. The early criticism of him failing to make the most of his regular starts was starting to reappear. Colin responded in the best way possible by making a magnificent fighting 144 not out in just over 6 hours, helping South Africa to draw the game. The Third and Fourth Tests were both also draws. Colin continued his good form with 78 and 64 at Newlands, and 55 and 38 not out at Johannesburg.
Colin’s fielding prowess was becoming well known. Less well known was the hours and hours of practice he put it to get to that level. Colin setup a spring loaded stump in front of a hockey goal at the family farm. He would then stand about 30 metres away, and have his family and farm workers throw balls in all directions for him to chase down and throw at the single stump. During practice he used a single stump as his target, as this was often all he could aim at from his place in the covers or mid-wicket.
South Africa’s next test series was a return tour of England in 1965. The First Test at Lords on 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th of July 1965 is seen as the point at which Colin’s legend as a fielder was recognised world wide. Colin’s old University teammate, Peter van der Merwe, was by now the Springbok captain, and he won the toss and batted first. South Africa made 280, with contributions all down the order. Colin made 39 before falling to the wily off-spinner Fred Titmus. England responded with 338, but the innings was notable for the runouts of Ken Barrington and Jim Parks. Barrington was on 91 when he went for a single to midwicket. Running in towards the keeper, Bland hit the stumps at the bowlers’ end, throwing it back over his shoulder. At that stage, England were going along very well at 4 for 240, just 40 runs behind South Africa and Barrington set for a large 100. This effort by Colin was generally regarded as one of the finest pieces of fielding seen at Lords, but he repeated it later on in the day to run out Parks in a similar manner. England were bowled out with a lead of only 58, and were left struggling to prevent defeat with their score at 7 for 145 when the game ended. These two pieces of magic are now considered the turning point in the series. While the First Test had ended in a draw, the English players became very wary of any ball hit in the vicinity of Bland for the remaining Tests. The South Africa players were also lifted by this exhibition, and they approached the rest of the series with renewed confidence. Colin’s personal confidence with the bat was also high, having top scored with a fluent 70 in South Africa’s second dig.
South Africa won the Second Test at Trent Bridge by 94 runs. Colin only scored 1 and 10 on a difficult pitch that neither team could pass 300. This left South Africa in the position to win the three match series against England, if they could either draw or win the final Test at the Oval on 26th, 27th, 28th, 30th and 31st of August 1965. English captain Mike Smith won the toss and chose to field on another difficult pitch. South Africa made 208, with Colin scoring 39 and ‘Tiger’ Lance 69. England failed to match this, making only 202. The pitch had started to flatten out, and South Africa tried to bat England out of the game. Colin made his third test century, scoring 127 in 276 minutes with 16 boundaries. South Africa finished with 392, and England were nearly 100 short of victory when the game finished in a draw. South Africa had their only test series win over England after World War II, and Colin was considered one of the stars of the team with both bat and in the field.
Colin was tired after his efforts against England, and after beginning the year in reasonable form, made the decision to stand down from the Rhodesian side during the 1965/66 home season in order to prepare himself fully for the upcoming tour by the Australians in 1966/67. He returned to the team for the following season, and was an automatic selection for South Africa.
Sadly though for Colin, the First Test against Australia at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg on 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th and 28th of December 1966 was destined to be his last. South Africa batted first and made only 199, with Colin falling lbw to McKenzie for a duck. Australia responded with 325, before the might of the South African batting made 620. Colin’s final test innings was 32, being dismissed to the part-time leg spin of Ian Chappell. South Africa dismissed Australia for only 261 to win by 233 runs, but tragically Colin crashed into the boundary fence chasing a ball and badly damaged his left knee. He was forced out of the remainder of the series, and despite making a comeback for Rhodesia, he never again regained his previous mobility and he officially retired from Test cricket.
Ironically, many South African fans believe his best batting performance actually came after his retirement, when Colin scored 197 in a match for Rhodesia against Border at the Jan Smuts Ground, East London on the 30th of December 1967 and the 1st, 2nd of January 1968. On a very sub-standard pitch, Colin’s quickfire innings setup his side for a victory when all other batsmen were struggling with their timing on a very slow surface. The knee injury meant that Colin could no longer prowl the covers, but he showed his all-round fielding ability by becoming an excellent slips fielder.
Colin’s fielding genius is still well remembered, with his captains often using him as an offensive weapon. His captains would often set the mid-off deeper than normal, encouraging the batsmen to try and sneak a single. Colin would be alert and cut across from his position in the covers and throw down the stumps at the bowlers’ end. Colin’s expertise in the field is still well recognized today, and in 2004 he was hired by the M.C.C. Cricket School to provide fielding coaching to the best young cricketers in England.
From 1961/62 until 1966/67, Colin played in 21 test matches. He scored 1669 runs at an average of 49.08, with 3 centuries, 9 fifties and a highest score of 144 not out. He also took two wickets at an average of 62.50. His best bowling figures were 2 for 16. He took 10 catches in his test career, but the number of run-outs he was involved in is not recorded.
First Class Games
In his 133 first class games, Colin scored 7249 runs at an average of 37.95, with 13 centuries and a top score of 197. He also took 43 wickets at an average of 35.27, with a best bowling of 4 for 40. Colin took 51 catches.