66 years after making his debut in 1949 as a fresh faced 18 year old, Brian Close remains the youngest man to have played test cricket for England. Close played his last test in 1976, meaning that he had an almost 27 year long test career. He played for England till the age of 45 making him the second oldest player to play for England since the second World War. Gubby Allen played his last test for England when he was 47.
Close died aged 84 on the 13th of September, 2015 at his home, near Bradford. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter. Close was one of England’s toughest and most respected cricketers.
Close captained England in 7 of the 22 tests he played in his 26 year long career. He led them to wins in 6 of his 7 tests in charge, but was sacked summarily after a game against Warwickshire where he was accused of time wasting. The loss was England’s as they lost out on the services of a fine leader for a trivial mistake.
He was recalled in the autumn of his career to face a young and fiery West Indian attack led by Andy Roberts and Michael Holding after other batsmen were found to be lacking in courage. In fact, he titled his autobiography “I don’t bruise easily”. The title does utmost justice to Close and his character.
He was an extremely successful captain for Yorkshire, and also captained Somerset in the winter of his career, where he chaperoned the young Ian Botham who was then breaking through the ranks at Somerset. Botham would have reminded Close of himself, for he was a precocious talent and was not lacking for courage. In fact, Botham’s all-action style of play closely mirrored that of Close, who is widely considered to be one of the best short leg fielders the game has seen.
Close’s battle against Michael Holding in his last test is the stuff of legend. He faced up to a bowler at his venomous best without a helmet or any extra protection. In fact, one of the most famous images of Close is of him posing shirtless with all the bruises inflicted by Holding clearly visible. That innings has ensured that Close has gone down in folklore as one of the most valiant cricketers to have ever stepped on a cricket field.
He was known for not showing any sign of pain and shrugging off help, saying “How can the ball hurt you? It's only on you for a second.” He led Yorkshire to a hat-trick of Championship titles and four titles overall. However, like most famous Yorkshiremen of the time, he fell out with the board and finished his career with Somerset, who he shaped into a formidable team with the like of Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner in its ranks. However, he rekindled his ties with Yorkshire by serving as the club’s President from 2008-2010.
Close ended with more than 35,000 runs in first class cricket alongside 1171 wickets, which were prised out through a combination of medium pace and off spin bowling. He was also one of the best all round fielders of all time and ended with more than 800 catches.
He first played for Rawdon, his club, at the tender age of 11 years and was a handy footballer in his youth. He represented Arsenal and Bradford City’s first teams in football before frequent injuries nipped his football career in the bud.
Close took charge of England after Colin Cowdrey was sacked while trailing 0-3 in a series against West Indies in 1966. He promptly led the team to an innings win in his first test in charge.
Close was the archetype of the Yorkshire pro as he was not only courageous but extremely straightforward and forthright. He would take no prisoners and was willing to accept his faults. In hindsight, Close was probably thrown to the wolves a little too early at the age of 18, and it is telling that no other player has represented England at that age.
His example probably has served as a cautionary tale. His frequent jousts with authority meant that he was seen as a rebel and a dissident. It meant that the world could not see enough of the legendary Yorkshireman’s multiple talents but what they saw still remains vivid in the memory.
He had to leave his beloved county, Yorkshire in tears in 1970 and his departure marked the beginning of Yorkshire’s decline in County cricket after an extremely successful run under his stewardship from the time he was appointed in 1963.