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A profile of Brian Close
by John Ward


Player:DB Close

He was unflinchingly courageous, whether standing (never crouching) at square leg or taking the fastest deliveries of the worldís quickest bowlers on the body. He was unapologetically obstinate and a daring gambler, both as player and captain, who was the epitome of positive cricket. Despite playing in only 22 Tests, Brian Close was a remarkable character and a legend in both Yorkshire and English cricket.
He had tremendous all-round sporting talent, playing professional soccer for Leeds United, Arsenal and Bradford City before a knee injury forced him to retire. He then became a single-handicap golfer, playing almost equally well right- or left-handed. In cricket he could have become one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game, but he is remembered even more for who he was that what he did.

EARLY DEVELOPMENT
He was just over six foot tall, with an athletic frame and balding as his career progressed. He was born in Rawdon, near Leeds, the second in a family of six. His father, Harry Close, was wicket-keeper for the local club and the boys were often at the ground on practice nights and for Saturday matches. They played their own games of cricket and soccer behind the pavilion, with other boys, and there Brian developed his prodigious natural talent.
Brian attended Aireborough Grammar School, and his talent was quickly noticed. His sports master sent him for coaching under George Hirst, and he played representative games at schoolboy level in both cricket and soccer. "At soccer he was signed on amateur forms by Leeds United when he was fourteen and a year later, as an inside-forward, toured Holland with the West Riding F.A. team. At cricket he played for the Yorkshire Federation against the Sussex Schoolboys when he was fifteen, and at seventeen, playing for Yeadon against Salts, in the Bradford League, he scored his first century Ė a success which brought him selection for the Yorkshire Colts against Sussex Second XI." (Wisden)
He intended to go to university, but could not be accepted until he had completed his two years of national service, so he turned to professional sport, signing up for Leeds United and attending the Yorkshire nets for coaching. In 1948 he played just one match for the Yorkshire second team without batting or bowling, but his progress during winter nets so impressed the Yorkshire hierarchy that they plunged him straight into the first team for the university matches at the start of 1949. Also making their Yorkshire debuts were Fred Trueman and Frank Lowson.
With 86 runs and 12 wickets in the two university matches, Brian kept his place in the Yorkshire team and continued to thrive. He did so well that he was chosen to play for England against New Zealand in the Third Test at Old Trafford, Manchester. It is very rare for a cricketer to play Test cricket in his first season, and this would probably not have happened against more renowned opponents. It was also before he received his county cap, and he remains Englandís youngest Test cricketer at the age of 18 years and 149 days.
Statistically his Test debut was not a success, as he took one wicket for 85 runs and failed to score with the bat. With his side needing quick runs when he came in at number nine, he tried to hit his third ball for six and was caught on the boundary; as he did throughout his career, he tried to fulfill the needs of his side.
He returned to play for Yorkshire, and soon afterwards completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in a season, although as the long season drew to an end he began to show signs of burnout. In doing so he set up two records that will probably never be equalled: he is the only player to record the double in his first season, and the youngest to do so.

FIRST TOUR
Then came a serious interruption to his career, as he was called up for the Royal Signals and most of his sport for the next two years was confined to the services. In this restricted arena he continued to do very well, and MCC managed to obtain his release to tour Australia in 1950/51 with Freddie Brownís team.
It was an unhappy tour for Brian. He began the tour with a maiden first-class century against Western Australia, but never passed 30 again in first-class cricket, suffering also from a chronic groin injury. The fast bowling of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller on his leg stump troubled him, and against to spinners he often swept himself to destruction.
Brian has written about the shabby treatment that he, still only 19, received at the hands of the captain and senior players, and the misery he felt as a naÔve youngster who desperately needed guidance. Possibly he gave the impression of being brash and antagonized them to some extent, but he manifestly lacked the guidance he needed. No doubt his captainís report had some effect, and incredibly this was the only full England tour that Brian was ever to have.
He came back to enjoy another successful cricket season with the Services, including a century for their team against the South Africans. When released in October he signed for Arsenal and tried to combine that job with playing for Yorkshire. Unfortunately, having obtained permission from the Yorkshire captain Norman Yardley to leave the opening match of 1952 early to play for Arsenal, he had it rescinded in Yardleyís absence by the match manager, arrived late at Arsenal and was promptly sacked.
He enjoyed another successful season for Yorkshire, recording another Ďdoubleí but playing no Test cricket, possibly the aftermath of an adverse captainís report from Australia. He enjoyed playing soccer for Bradford City this time, but a serious knee injury was to end his professional footballing career and put him out of the entire 1953 cricket season, except for one match.
It was not until 1954 that Brian scored his first century for Yorkshire, 123 not out against the touring Pakistanis, and only the following season did he record a first county championship century. He played one Test against South Africa in 1955, in a season when he fell just three wickets short of another double. It showed the selectors were considering him again, and he was included in the young MCC team to tour Pakistan in 1955/56.

MORE CONTROVERSY
Years passed, though, with Brian continuing to turn in good all-round performances without ever scaling the heights that his talent suggested and demanding a regular Test place, although he won occasional selections. He made one appearance against Richie Benaudís Australians in 1961, when he was again embroiled in controversy.
He played in the famous match at Old Trafford, Manchester, when England were set 256 to win in just under four hours and looked on course for victory when Ted Dexter played a powerful attacking innings of 70. Benaud countered by bowling his leg-breaks round the wicket into the rough, and quickly dismissed Dexter and May. Brian, sensing that the right-handers would struggle against this form of bowling, decided that Englandís best chance would be for him to hit Benaud out of the attack.
He hit Benaud for one huge six, but then mistimed a stroke and was out to a good catch at backward square leg. Commentators and selectors alike failed to understand his tactic, and there were many who condemned it as an awful stroke to end an innings of irresponsible and reckless strokeplay, some saying brutally that he should never play for England again. None asked him the reasoning behind his innings, but Benaud himself said it was a gamble that might have paid off and ruined his plans.

YORKSHIRE CAPTAIN
He was frustrated by the lack of unity and ineffective leadership in the Yorkshire side that prevented them from winning the championship, and yearned for the captaincy that would enable him to put things right.
According to his autobiography, he played a major role in tactics when Ronnie Burnet was appointed captain of Yorkshire in 1958, although he personally felt the captaincy should have gone to Johnny Wardle. Wardle resented Burnet and was sacked; after Burnet retired, Brian was further frustrated when the captaincy was given to the veteran Vic Wilson.
Finally Brianís chance came in 1963, perhaps with some reluctance on the part of the Yorkshire committee, given Brianís reputation. He immediately made an impression with his dynamic leadership and imaginative field placings and bowling changes; he won the praises of Richie Benaud among others, who felt he should be the national captain. Wisden reported that it seemed he had matured overnight, and his efforts were rewarded with another championship. He was to captain Yorkshire to four championships in his eight years at the helm.
This may have encouraged the national selectors to turn to him again, although not as captain. For the first time he was selected for an entire series, against the West Indies with their fearsome fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, whose favourite weapon was the bouncer.
In the Lordís Test Brian played his most famous innings and highest Test score of 70. England needed 234 to win and lost three wickets for 31, and then Colin Cowdrey was forced to retire hurt after a short ball from Hall broke his arm. Brian replaced him, and famously took the short-pitched balls on the body as he dug in.
At the other end England lost wickets, and Brian decided to try moving down the pitch to upset the length of Hall and Griffith. He succeeded for a while, disturbing Hall in particular, but finally he was caught at the wicket swinging at Griffith. England narrowly held on for a draw, while Brian was the hero of the day, a photograph showing him with his body a mass of bruises from shoulder to waist.
Brian finished the series with over 300 runs, but was then dumped by the selectors once again. He continued to captain Yorkshire with flair, and his greatest hour came in 1966. The West Indies were back in England, beating a disappointing England in three of the first four Test matches. The selectors needed a captain able to inspire a depressed team. They turned to Brian.

NATIONAL CAPTAIN
They were not disappointed. Although Brian scored only four runs Ė given run out to a dubious umpiring decision Ė and took one wicket, he changed the entire atmosphere of the dressing room and galvanized the team to an astounding innings victory. With the bat England seemed to owe everything to a century by Tom Graveney and excellent support from tail-enders John Murray, Ken Higgs and John Snow, but those there paid tribute to Brianís inspiration that made all this possible.
The moment of the match, though, came when West Indian captain Gary Sobers, sitting on a series batting average of well over 100, came in to bat in the second innings with his side struggling to avoid an innings defeat. Everything depended on what this great player would do, as even the miraculous seemed within his capabilities in this series.
Brian believed that Sobers, a fine hooker, would be vulnerable to the bouncer early on, so he signalled bowler Snow to bowl one first ball. Everything went according to plan: Sobers hooked, edged the ball on to his body and it rebounded to Close at short leg to take the catch. As so often during Brianís career, while other players would be ducking, he was standing there in the firing line, facing the batsman and ready to take the catch or the full-blooded blow on the body or face as the case might be.
Unfortunately England had no tour that winter, but the selectors could not avoid reappointing Brian in 1967 when weak teams from India and Pakistan toured. Brian captained the side in all six matches, winning five and probably only failing to win the sixth due to a crucial dropped catch that allowed Pakistani captain Hanif Mohammad to play one of his marathon innings. Brianís great ambition now was to captain the England team to tour West Indies at the start of 1968.
But there were those in the MCC who were wary of Brian, believing him too rash a character to trust in sensitive areas of the world and not realizing that the pride Brian took in captaining his country would not allow him to bring English cricket into disrepute. They had no chance to remove him, though Ė until Yorkshire played Warwickshire in Birmingham towards the end of the season.
Warwickshire were chasing victory in awkward conditions, but in 100 minutes Yorkshire bowled only 24 overs, very slow for those days, and fell nine runs short. Yorkshire were accused of blatant time-wasting tactics, Brian as captain was held responsible, and he was severely censured by the authorities. Brian stuck to his guns, refusing to apologize and claiming that the damp conditions and his use of pace bowlers were the reasons. The end result was that he was removed from the England captaincy, another decision of dubious credibility in the history of English cricket administration.
Naturally Brian has remained deeply hurt and offended by such treatment. It also outraged him that his replacement, Colin Cowdrey, owed much to the series victory that ensued, and indeed was praised for his tactic, by slowing down the English over rate to frustrate the West Indian batsmen, and eventually Sobers, largely in response to this tactic, made an over-generous declaration and England won the run-chase.
Brian had to content himself with three successive championships for Yorkshire between 1966 and 1968. Then came a lean period for the county, as several top players retired. Yet one more devastating blow was to hit him in 1970.
After so many years of wonderful service to Yorkshire cricket, he suspected nothing when in the winter of 1970 he was called to meet the county committee, headed by the autocratic former county captain Brian Sellers. He learned that he had a choice: resign or be sacked. The excuses were apparently that he made no secret of his dislike for one-day cricket, which was growing in importance, that he allegedly failed to bring on the younger players, and that he was becoming more injury-prone.
Brian opted to take the sack, sick at heart to be accorded such treatment. At the age of 39 he believed he still had much cricket left in him, and other counties agreed. Eventually he signed to play for Somerset.

SOMERSET CAREER
He made his point in his first year, 1971. In his first match he scored a century against Leicestershire, and 102 against Yorkshire the first time he played them in the championship. He took over the captaincy in 1972, when Brian Langford resigned, and averaged over 50 with the bat for the first time in his career.
There was another surprise that year. For the first time England arranged a series of three one-day internationals against the Australian touring team. Their regular captain, Brianís old team-mate Ray Illingworth, now with Leicestershire, injured his ankle in the final Test match and a replacement skipper was needed. Remarkably, the selectors returned to the man who had been so unceremoniously sacked five years earlier, who also had such a dislike of one-day cricket. Brian captained England to a two-one win in that series.
In the next few winters he captained several unofficial touring teams to South Africa and Rhodesia, but his international career appeared to be over. In 1976 he was 45 years old, but showing no signs of age with the bat or in the field, although he was bowling less. The West Indies were the touring team again, captained by Clive Lloyd and with a daunting pace attack of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel, backed by Vanburn Holder and Bernard Julien.

THE FINAL STAND
Even before the season began, the England selectors were desperately searching for batsmen with the courage and technique to handle the pace. When Brian scored 88 and 40 for Somerset against the tourists, he booked his place in the national side, captained now by Tony Greig, who had been three years old when Brian made his Test debut.
He did not let them down. He scored 60 and 46 in the Lordís Test, playing a major role in saving England from defeat. In the Third Test, at Old Trafford, he was promoted to open the batting, along with the 39-year-old John Edrich.
The second innings was famous for one of the most unsavoury periods of play in the history of the game, as Roberts, Holding and Daniel unleashed a non-stop barrage of bouncers at Close and Edrich, with little intervention from the umpires. Brian again took numerous blows on the body, but both batsmen lasted until close of play. They were soon out the following morning, when the bowlers pitched the ball further up, but were the only batsmen to reach 20 in a total of 126, their opening stand having realized 54.
After the treatment Brian had received over the years at the hands of the selectors, nobody should have been surprised that he was immediately dropped for the next Test, as was Edrich. This time it really was the end, after a career of 22 Tests, played in 11 series over a remarkable period of 27 years. Only Wilfred Rhodes (30 years) has had a longer interval between his first and last Tests, and Brian appears on the list of both oldest and youngest Test players.
At the end of the following season, 1977, during which he suffered several injuries, Brian finally retired. He went to play for Todmorden in the Lancashire League, and made six more first-class appearances at the Scarborough Festival in later years, his final match being at the age of 55 in 1986.
He was a Test selector from 1979 to 1981, and was elected to the Yorkshire County Cricket Club committee in 1984, beginning a lengthy period as chairman on the cricket sub-committee. He often found himself in conflict with Geoff Boycott, who had played under his captaincy years before, in those troubled years of Yorkshire cricket. He continued to play, and even in his sixties had a spell as captain of the Yorkshire colts team, standing at square leg as courageously and swearing as eloquently as ever.

THE ENIGMA
As a man, Brian has always been original, gregarious and sometimes eccentric, always in the centre of the action, a larger than life character. Stories abound of his deeds and sayings, not least those concerning his activities behind the wheel of a car. Most who know him regard him with a great mixture of affection and respect.
As a batsman he was most famed for his courage against the fastest bowlers in world cricket, and were he still playing today it is inconceivable that he would consider wearing a helmet, whether batting or fielding so close to the bat at short leg. He also played the spinners well, either sweeping powerfully or moving down the pitch to drive them. Very strong, his boundaries were powerfully hit. Always he was prepared to take the calculated gamble, which did not always come off.
As a bowler he was a seamer during his teen years, but at the Yorkshire nets was coached to bowl off-breaks. For much of his career he combined the two modes. He was unsurprisingly an attacking bowler, always experimenting and trying to get the batsman out rather than simply stopping him from scoring. He practised well the psychology of cricket, always planning, always with original strategies designed at unsettling the batsman and taking his wicket. From 1969 onwards he bowled less frequently, keeping to off-spin as he grew older, and only once again took more than 15 wickets in a season.
Only four fielders in the history of the game have taken more than Brianís 813 catches, many taken suicidally close at short leg without helmet or padding. Apart from that and the longevity of his career, Brianís figures (batting average 33, bowling average 26) are not unduly remarkable for a player of such talent. He did not even score a century or take a five-wicket haul in his intermittent Test career. As a batting all-rounder, his batting figures most demand query. He surely had the talent to average more than 40.
Perhaps there are three main reasons. He was impetuous, a gambler, always seeking to dominate unless the needs of the side demanded he stay there. He tended to lose concentration, a trait also evident in his captaincy at times, if rarely his fielding. And he was primarily a team player, always batting with the interests of the team in mind.
In a recent interview, Brian was asked how he would like to be remembered. He settled for, ďHe played with honour.Ē No doubt courage is included in that, and despite the controversies that surrounded him this is the essence of his reputation. He is one player who is never likely to be forgotten by those who knew him and watched him play.

 

Teams: Yorkshire (1949-1970, 536 matches; captain 1963-1970),
Somerset (1971-1977, 142 matches; captain 1972-1977).
Tours: England to Australia 1950/51.
MCC v Pakistan 1955/56.
Commonwealth to South Africa 1959/60, to India 1964/65.
Yorkshire to North America 1964 (not first-class).
International Wanderers to Rhodesia 1972/73 (captain), to South Africa 1974/75 (captain).
D H Robins XI to South Africa 1973/74 (captain), 1974/75 (captain).
1000 runs in a season: 20 times
Most runs in a season: 1985 (av. 35.45), in 1961
Best batting average in a season: 51.70 (1396 runs), in 1972
100 wickets in a season: twice (50 or more wickets 10 times)
Most wickets in a season: 114 (av. 24.09), in 1952
Best bowling average in a season: 19.30 (20 wkts), in 1950
Double of 1000 runs and 100 wkts: twice (1000 runs and 50 wkts 10 times)
Most catches in a season: 48 (plus 1 stumping), in 1964
Highest score: 198, Yorkshire v Surrey (The Oval), 1960
Best bowling: 8/41, Yorkshire v Kent (Leeds), 1959

 

In Test cricket:
Captain of England: 7 matches, 1966-1967 (won 6, lost 0, drawn 1)
Highest score: 70, England v West Indies (Lordís), 1963
Best bowling: 4/35, England v India (Leeds), 1959

 

CAREER RECORD

 

M I NO Runs HS Av. 100 50 Ct/St Overs Mdns Runs Wkts Av. BB 5wI 10wM 1949 31 50 10 1098 88* 27.45 - 4 19 1245 324 3150 113 27.88 6/47 6 - 1950 4 7 1 202 92* 33.66 - 2 5 153.1 46 386 20 19.30 6/61 1 1 A-1950/51 9 13 3 231 108* 23.10 1 - 9 +98 9 475 13 36.54 3/81 - - 1951 6 12 1 384 135* 34.91 1 2 5 101.4 37 246 4 61.50 1/22 - - 1952 33 45 9 1192 87* 33.11 - 8 27 1106.4 330 2746 114 24.08 6/69 6 - 1953 2 2 1 14 10 14.00 - - 1 45 19 105 3 35.00 2/61 - - 1954 31 43 7 1320 164 36.66 2 7 25 534 138 1474 66 22.33 6/38 4 - 1955 32 53 5 1330 143 27.70 2 5 38 871.4 257 2274 97 23.44 7/62 5 - P-1955/56 12 20 1 684 92 36.00 - 5 12 145 58 313 11 28.45 2/40 - - 1956 27 37 5 802 88 25.06 - 3 23 266.5 75 674 24 28.08 4/27 - - 1957 34 56 4 1666 120 32.03 4 6 37 289 93 787 32 24.59 5/29 1 - 1958 34 53 5 1497 120 31.18 2 7 33 342.1 85 921 34 27.08 4/30 - - 1959 33 56 3 1879 154 35.45 5 8 37 757 210 2162 88 24.56 8/41 5 - SA-1959/60 3 5 1 111 78 77.75 - 1 1 125 28 442 9 39.11 4/100 - - 1960 36 51 3 1699 198 35.93 3 8 44 611.3 207 1493 64 23.32 8/43 3 - 1961 37 64 8 1985 132 35.44 5 9 47 615 220 1716 67 25.61 6/49 3 - 1962 29 46 6 1447 142 36.17 3 7 30 413.5 164 929 32 29.03 3/4 - - 1963 31 50 3 1529 161 32.53 1 10 27 425.2 134 1176 43 27.34 6/55 1 - 1964 36 55 7 1455 100* 30.31 1 8 48/1 563.5 199 1360 52 26.15 6/29 1 - I-1964/65 1 2 0 52 52 52.00 - 1 2 30.1 4 170 4 42.50 2/55 - - 1965 30 46 7 1127 117* 28.89 3 2 31 527.2 202 1217 58 20.98 6/49 4 1 1966 34 56 11 1331 115* 29.57 3 6 46 563.3 201 1362 60 22.70 6/27 2 - 1967 23 32 4 884 98 31.57 - 8 29 372.1 134 870 29 30.00 4/68 - - 1968 27 34 8 660 77* 25.38 - 3 34 340 139 772 32 24.12 4/87 - - 1969 20 27 4 812 146 35.30 1 4 10 115 47 282 7 40.28 1/4 - - 1970 20 28 2 949 128 36.50 1 6 20 34 10 95 2 47.50 1/15 - - 1971 26 42 10 1389 116* 43.40 5 6 34 39 11 160 5 32.00 3/20 - - 1972 20 33 6 1396 135 51.70 3 7 17 35 10 128 3 42.66 1/77 - - R-1972/73 2 4 0 59 27 14.75 - - 6 40 6 218 6 36.33 3/59 - - 1973 21 32 5 1096 153 40.59 3 3 21 159.5 29 560 10 56.00 2/3 - - SA-1973/74 7 11 3 200 50 25.00 - 1 8 47 9 184 2 92.00 1/0 - - 1974 24 40 9 1153 114* 37.19 1 5 25 104 30 287 14 20.50 5/70 1 - SA-1974/75 7 13 4 332 102 36.88 1 - 7 27.5 1 129 4 32.25 4/36 - - 1975 22 38 6 1284 138* 40.12 1 8 14 294.1 87 931 29 32.10 4/22 - - 1976 20 34 5 1137 88 39.20 - 8 17 163.1 36 605 15 40.33 3/35 - - 1977 16 25 2 438 87 19.04 - 2 19 0.2 0 8 0 -- -- - - 1978 1 2 0 9 8 4.50 - - 2 8 1 31 1 31.00 1/31 - - 1979 - 1980 - 1981 - 1982 1 1 1 26 26* -- - - 1 -- 1983 1 2 0 52 51 26.00 - 1 - 1.4 0 5 1 5.00 1/5 - - 1984 1 1 1 15 15* -- - - - 1.1 0 2 0 -- -- - - 1985 1 2 2 42 22* -- - - 2 6 1 33 2 16.50 2/33 - - 1986 1 2 0 26 22 13.00 - - - 10 1 71 1 71.00 1/71 - - 786 173 34994 198 33.26 52 813/1 11629 3592 30949 1171 26.43 8/41 43 3 1225 171 + = 8-ball overs

 

TEST CAREER RECORD

 

M I NO Runs HS Av. 100 50 Ct/St Overs Mdns Runs Wkts Av. BB 5wI 10wM 1949 v NZ 1 1 0 0 0 0.00 - - - 42 14 85 1 85.00 1/39 - - 1950/51 A 1 2 0 1 1 0.50 - - 1 +7 1 28 1 28.00 1/20 - - 1955 v SA 1 2 0 47 32 23.50 - - - -- 1957 v WI 2 3 0 89 42 29.66 - - 2 2 1 8 0 -- 1959 v I 1 1 0 27 27 27.00 - - 4 16 1 53 5 10.60 4/35 - - 1961 v A 1 2 0 41 33 20.50 - - 2 8 1 33 0 -- 1963 v WI 5 10 0 315 70 31.50 - 3 2 25 5 88 0 -- 1966 v WI 1 1 0 4 4 4.00 - - 1 12 3 28 1 28.00 1/21 - - 1967 v I 3 4 1 102 47 34.00 - - 2 60.4 20 144 8 18.00 4/68 - - 1967 v P 3 5 0 95 41 19.00 - - 6 27 10 65 2 32.50 1/4 - - 1976 v WI 3 6 1 166 60 33.20 - 1 4 -- 22 37 2 887 70 25.34 - 4 24 199.4 56 532 18 29.55 4/35 - -

 

RECORD AGAINST EACH COUNTRY

 

M I NO Runs HS Av. 100 50 Ct/St Overs Mdns Runs Wkts Av. BB 5wI 10wM Australia 2 4 0 42 33 10.50 - - 3 15+ 2 61 1 61.00 1/20 - - S Africa 1 2 0 47 32 23.50 - - - -- W Indies 11 20 1 574 70 30.21 - 4 9 39 9 124 1 124.00 1/21 - - New Zealand 1 1 0 0 0 0.00 - - - 42 14 85 1 85.00 1/39 - - India 4 5 1 129 47 32.25 - - 6 76.4 21 197 13 15.15 4/35 - - Pakistan 3 5 0 95 41 19.00 - - 6 27 10 65 2 32.50 1/4 - - 22 37 2 887 70 25.34 - 4 24 199.4 56 532 18 29.55 4/35 - -

(Article: Copyright © 2003 John Ward)



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