Brian Close obituary: Fearless to the point of being foolhardy

Brian Close, who died on September 13, could be obstinate, bloody-minded, perverse and intractable but he was the most magnificent cricketer, from his left-handed, aggressive batting, to his season of fast bowling, his medium pace, his off-breaks and his superb brave fielding.

Brian Close was an aggressive batsman and a barve fielder.   -  AP

Brian Close was big but never overweight; a bright, intelligent cricketer who could have captained any club he played for; so talented that Fred Trueman could comment “Closey has more ability in his little finger than Gary Sobers had in the whole of his body” and yet he was still sometimes — as they say in his home county — “daft as a brush.”

Brushes may be insulted by this remark just a few days after Close died from cancer, aged 84. It is typical of him that when he received that most dreaded verdict, he continued to smoke as he had done all his life. Daft. See what I mean.

The result was that everyone in Yorkshire — women enchanted by his sturdy frame, young males who would have given an arm and a leg to play with his carefree vigour, children who adored his readiness to be friendly — loved Closey.

He could also be obstinate, bloody-minded, perverse and intractable but he was the most magnificent cricketer, from his left-handed, aggressive batting, to his season of fast bowling, his medium pace, his off-breaks and his superb brave fielding.

Please don’t talk to me about his fielding. It was courageous to the point of foolishness as he stood nearer the batsman at short-leg than anyone else has ever done. There were no helmets then, remember, and Closey would no more have put on protective clothing than he would have gone out to bat not wearing pads and gloves.

“Catch it,” he screamed as the ball bounced off his head towards slip.

“Suppose it had struck you on the temple?”

“It would have gone to cover.” He adored that tale and repeated it often. I saw him play frequently, from the moment I batted No. 11 in a village side that took on his mighty skills while he was doing his National Service nearby until that strange afternoon in 1976 when he and John Edrich defied Michael Holding and Andy Roberts at their most aggressive at Old Trafford. It was wasted since England lost easily. Somehow, it epitomised the Close spirit as he took one blow after another on his body.

He was proud of that performance as he was of a similar effort at Lord’s when he called in a photographer to snap his vivid bruises. Don’t think I write this piece to prove Close was anything but a hero and let me say immediately that he was, at his best, a brilliant hitter with 52 first-class centuries, a great record with Yorkshire and a tolerant tutor to Ian Botham and Viv Richards at Somerset.

With every Close triumph there was also a disaster waiting. He had a great tactical sense and led Yorkshire to three championships as after being one of the brains trust who guided them when less than perfect captains were in charge.

He played for England at 18 after there were accusations in the Bradford League — Yorkshire’s nursery in that period — that he, his father and his grandfather were not above pulling a fast one to obtain an advantage.

I wonder if he ever worked out the fast one Richie Benaud put over on him in the Old Trafford Test of 1961 when he was one of the last batsmen of note as England, inspired by a fine Ted Dexter innings, pressed for victory.

Benaud told me: “I called over Norman O’Neill and whispered to him to go to square-leg after the second ball of my next over. It worked like a dream.” (Most Benaud plans did.) “Closey tried to sweep and the ball fell straight into the hands of the man who had just moved to square leg.”

Close is second to Wilfred Rhodes for the length of service he gave England but he was never an outstanding success and he had the Test captaincy taken off him for slow play in a county match.

No-one knew more about the game — he was also a golfer with a low handicap playing either left- or right-handed and a footballer who might have been even better if he had treated it as his major sport — nor offered better company, nor brought the best out of Yorkshire’s procession of youngsters.

He was a rough parent to these boys but it was the upbringing that helped them to Test careers. He bullied them into driving home recklessly and there is at least one tale of him returning to the field to find the ball in the hands of a teenager. “Get him off now,” he bellowed. “This is a proper Yorkshire match not a trial game.”

That rough and ready esprit de corps won titles for Yorkshire as did his order to Geoff Boycott in the 1965 Gillette Cup final at Lord’s. Boycott was playing carefully when Close came in. “Now then Geoffrey,” he said. “I want you playing a few shots, scoring quicker — and if you don’t I’ll run you out.” The result: a magnificent 146 from Boycott and another cup in the Yorkshire trophy room.

In truth, he was a Yorkshire legend. In retirement he was always leaning against a bar, telling the tale with a cigarette going, a handful of peanuts in one hand and the money for the next round in the other. He — and his shadow Ray Illingworth — taught me and many another writer as much as we could learn about his lovely game so that by his strokes, his personality, his openness and his wide, wide grin, he spread the name of the game far.

I am pleased he saw one final Yorkshire championship and I hope the county erect something grand to his memory.

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