Vintcent van der Bijl possessed great skills as a right-arm quick but was unfortunate to be a part of an era that deprived him of international cricket. He combined with Wayne Daniel to form one of the most dynamic fast bowling duo in county cricket.
Vince van der Bijl is arguably the greatest cricketer never to represent their country. In a career spanning 17 years, the Cape Town-born right-arm seamer took 767 first-class wickets at a remarkable average of 16.54 but South Africa’s exile from international cricket due to apartheid meant he was never able to show off his skills at the top level.
Test cricket’s loss was Middlesex’s gain for a solitary summer in 1980, when van der Bijl took 85 County Championship wickets at 14.72, etching his name into the club’s folklore in the process. With van der Bijl and West Indian quick Wayne Daniel combining to great effect, Middlesex romped to the title.
Mike Brearley, who was captain of that Championship-winning side, admits he initially had reservations about signing the South Africa, but those fears were quickly allayed after meeting one of the game’s gentle giants.
“I remember being suspicious of the signing of Vintcent, wondering whether we wanted a white South African,” says Brearley. “But he became one of my best friends! Vince was an unbelievably good cricketer and a terrific member of the side. He also changed the team culture. Part of that sharp humour, which we still had some of, was that you wouldn’t generally take the blame yourself. But he would always take the blame himself. He’d say things like: ‘We lost that match because of the two half-volleys I bowled at the start.’ He was a lovely bloke and he would say this with complete sincerity.”
“He was undoubtedly one of the nicest men you’ll meet in cricket and an awesome bowler,” adds Mike Gatting, who averaged 50 for Middlesex in the 1980 campaign. “He was a bit quicker than Joel Garner and he swung it away as well. He probably didn’t quite have Joel’s yorker but he was as accurate.”
Van der Bijl relished the opportunity to play county cricket and says Brearley was the best captain he ever played under.
“I know there have been some great captains around the world but if anyone was better than Brearlers I’d like to have a chat,” he says. “He was like an intellectual realist. He loved the intrigue of life and the interaction with people. He opened thoughts and experiences for us, which were lasting. He allowed us to explore ourselves. He challenged what we were thinking and within that absorbed and accepted all individuals in the group and made us a cohesive unit.”
Van der Bijl’s time at Lord’s was short but very, very sweet. Few cricketers have made such an impact in such a short space of time, and he continues to be revered by the Middlesex faithful.
First published in 2017