Brian Close remains the man we remember as the bald, middle-aged, left-handed soldier; pushing the frontiers of bravery till it encroached into the realm of recklessness.
We remember him for going in to open the innings for England against a fiery Michael Holding at Old Trafford, his battle scarred 45-year-old body increasingly battered by the bouncers. As the thunderbolts struck, his knees seemed to buckle. But, the man refused to even rub his chest when the balls exploded off the turf and thudded into him. At the other end, Andy Roberts ran in with his expressionless face, as quick and as lethal. And as he had done all his life, Close stood tall and refused to give in.
This was the man who, a dozen years ago, had walked down the wicket to take on Wes Hall. Now, even at an age when most cricketers preferred to be in the game from the safe distance of coaching, commentary or criticism, he refused to flinch against some of the most terrifying spells of fast bowling ever seen. At the other end was John Edrich, no spring chicken himself, aged 39. And the two venerable men, with a combined age of 84, survived the 75 minutes of hostility that, according to Neil Squires, bordered on the insane. Even Wisden was moved to say, “The period before the close of the third day brought disquieting cricket as Edrich and Close grimly defended their wickets and themselves against fast bowling, which was frequently too wild and too hostile to be acceptable.”
After batting for nearly an hour and a quarter, the number of runs beside Close’s name was just one. He was undefeated. “I hope it was worth the pain,” joked the veteran Yorkshireman. When he took off his shirt in the dressing room, his teammates gasped at the number of welts and bruises. The rash of bruises down his right side and across his chest required long sessions with a pain-killing freezer before he could lie down.
Close boasted a mediocre record for England as a late middle-order batsman, and an useful off-spinner who could double up as a seamer. A successful national captain, he was too controversial to hold down his place in the hot seat for long.
But, for Yorkshire he was a legend, for his all-round record, as captain and then as administrator.
As a character he remained controversial, frequently erratic, sometimes almost masochistic in his willingness to suffer pain. He rubbed many people the wrong way, and seldom rubbed the place where a ball had thudded in as he stood ridiculously close to the bat. At the same time, he inspired loyalty, with that very characteristic of standing close to the batsman, willing to take one for the team. Even the volatile Trueman was happy to play under him, as were most others.
Brian Close, curious, controversial and a composite of unfulfilled promises, was born on February 24, 1931.
Text: Arunabha Sengupta