Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Brian Close

I was saddened, towards the end of our holiday, to read of the death of Brian Close.

There was something about the craggy-featured Yorkshireman that symbolised not just the cricket of his county, but the county itself. Any side in which he was a part - or especially captain - was going to be in it for a battle.

He suffered fools unwillingly and many have taken to print and other media to tell stories about him. I recall talking to a former Yorkshire player's father a few years back, whose son was part of the academy there when Close was persuaded to take on the captain's role as they played in a local league. This was some time after his retirement and way past the point at which he should have been facing young tearaways, keen to make a name for themselves.

What was the son's opinion of Close? 'He didn't half swear a lot, but you would do anything for him.'

Would Ian Botham and Viv Richards have become the players they were without his guiding hand on their formative career? Maybe not, as both acknowledged they were taught self-discipline by their captain, when he moved to Somerset. Letting players of quality go was a skill keenly cultivated by Yorkshire in that era. Both Close and Ray Illingworth went on to captaincy glories elsewhere when the county should have done all possible to retain their services, especially with an array of young players coming through. They would have benefited from their guidance, rather than that of an at times more self-centred Geoff Boycott.

As a batsman, Close was better than he looked at times. You would never call him attractive to watch, but he was functional and shoveled the ball to its destination enough to be a man teams needed to dismiss. His bravery against the fastest of bowlers was legendary; his skill against those of cunning and guile often overlooked.

He could bowl off spin or medium pace, he captained with total control and considerable self-confidence, though sometimes, when perhaps ruminating over the chances of his racing selections, one of his charges might approach Illingworth, or the canniest of wicket keepers, Jimmy Binks and suggest t'rudder had gone.

More than anything, he was hard as nails in the field, standing closer than anyone else and oblivious to the dangers in doing so. Close stood on the edge of the cut strip and so took more blows than most, though he held more catches than them, too. He even reckoned he could take on Muhammad Ali in a boxing ring, claiming the great heavyweight couldn't hurt him. Nor could a cricket ball, he reasoned, as it is 'only on your skin for a second'.

Anyone who saw him face the West Indian pace attack, when he was recalled to England colours at the age of 45, will remember his bravery. So do I, some time earlier, in one of the first games I saw.

It was at Chesterfield and Close, at short leg, stopped a full-blooded sweep from Mike Page with his shin. No shin guards at that time - he shook his leg, somewhat akin to a dog after doing the toilet, and stayed put. After two or three overs, he made his way slowly to the pavilion. Down on the boundary, near to where we were sitting. a supporter asked Fred Trueman what was wrong.

'Silly bugger's shin is wide open' came the reply. He wouldn't go off, but we told him to bugger off and get it stitched.'.

He returned later. And bowled...

They don't make them like that any more. Rest in Peace Brian. You were one of the best.

And undoubtedly the hardest...

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