Colin Bland was considered by many to be the greatest fielder the game had ever seen. © Wisden India

Colin Bland was considered by many to be the greatest fielder the game had ever seen. © Wisden India

Colin Bland, considered by many as the greatest fielder ever, passed away in London on Saturday (April 14). Born on April 5, 1938 in Bulawayo, he had just turned 80 years old. He represented South Africa in 21 Test matches from 1961 to 1966.

The news of Bland’s demise emerged only on Monday, and immediately tribute poured in on Twitter.

Bland finished his international career with 1669 runs, which included three centuries and a highest score of 144 not out against England in Johannesburg in 1964, at an average of 49.08. It was, however, his fielding that made him popular. He took only ten catches, but it was his athleticism that stood out.

“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,” Ali Bacher, a pioneer of South African cricket who played with Bland was as quoted by IOL News. “We would watch him and would think, ‘he was from a different planet.’ (For the crowd) it was a case of come and watch Graeme Pollock bat and Bland field, he was amazing.”

Bland was a part of five wins, four losses and 12 draws. His international career was cut short when he crashed into a boundary fence while chasing the ball during the Johannesburg Test against Australia in 1966-67. He damaged his left knee and never played for South Africa again.

He continued to play first-class cricket till 1974. In a career spanning 18 years, he made 7249 runs in 131 matches. He hit 13 centuries, and his highest was 197 for Rhodesia against Border. He represented a total of 14 teams in first-class cricket including playing four matches for Rest of the World XI on a tour of England in 1967 where Gary Sobers captained him.

His best season was 1964-65 when he made 1048 runs in ten first-class matches. It was the only season that he crossed the 1000-run mark.