Bland was educated at Milton High School. He made his first class debut for Rhodesia as a schoolboy against Peter May‘s MCC and went on to represent them 55 times from 1956 to 1968. He later played for the South African provincial sides Eastern Province and Orange Free State. A tall and elegant right-handed batsman, Bland broke into the South African Test team in 1961, and was a regular until 1966-67. As South Africa in the apartheid era played Test cricket only against England, Australia and New Zealand, his career was restricted to just 21 Tests, in which he scored 1,669 runs, including three centuries. His highest Test score came in the Second Test against England at Johannesburg in 1964-65; South Africa followed on 214 behind, and was 109 for 4 in the second innings when Bland came in and hit 144 not out in just over 4 hours to save the match.
Bland’s chief fame, though, rested on his fielding. By common consent the finest cover fieldsman of his time, and rated by some as the finest ever, he was able to the turn the course of whole matches. His spectacular run out of Ken Barrington in the Lord’s Test of 1965, followed by a similar dismissal of Jim Parks, may have prevented England from establishing a match-winning first innings lead, the match eventually being drawn.Brian Johnston recalled of the 1965 tour, “For the first time I heard people saying that they must go to a match especially to watch a fielder.”
Bland was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1966; he is one of only two players so honoured (the other is Stuart Surridge) to be depicted in the accompanying portrait fielding, rather than batting, bowling or keeping. When Wisden asked Peter van der Merwe in 1999 to name the five outstanding cricketers of the twentieth century, he included Colin Bland, saying, “He revolutionised the attitude to fielding, and set a standard not yet equalled.”
Bland retired from Test cricket after injury forced him out of the side after the First Test in 1966-67. He continued to play first-class cricket in South Africa until the 1973-74 season.