|Dennis Brian Close (born 24 February 1931 in Rawdon, Yorkshire) is the youngest man ever to play cricket for England. He was admitted to the Test team to play against New Zealand at just 18 years and 149 days old. Close went on to play 22 Test matches for England, captaining them seven times, winning six times and drawing once. Close also captained Yorkshire to four county championship titles, the main honour English county cricket clubs play for. He later went on to captain Somerset, where he is widely credited with turning Somerset round to a hard-playing team that helped mould Viv Richards and Ian Botham into the cricketing greats they became.
Throughout his cricket career, which lasted from 1948 to 1977 season, Close was one of the most charismatic and well-known cricketers. At just over six feet tall he was a noticeable presence on the field, often fielding at short leg. Short leg is a position close to the batsman, and, as cricketers did not use head or body protection in Close's day, he would often get hurt when a batsman struck a ball that hit him. Close was also noted for standing up to intimidatory bowling when he was batting and letting the ball hit his unprotected torso. Indeed, Close was so well known for getting hit a lot that Eric Morecambe, Britain's leading comedian of the time, would joke that "you know the cricket season has arrived when you hear the sound of leather on Brian Close" (mimicking the usual phrase "leather on willow" - cricket balls being made of leather, and bats, of willow).
Yet despite his successes, Close was dogged by controversy throughout his career. He was serving a sentence of being "confined to barracks" during his National Service when called up for his first international tour, sacked by England for timewasting, and sacked by Yorkshire for being against one-day cricket and not giving enough support to younger cricketers. He went on to tour apartheid South Africa and white-minority controlled Rhodesia, and as chairman of Yorkshire's cricket subcommittee, he had many run-ins with the then Yorkshire captain, Geoffrey Boycott. In short, Close was known as a cricketing gambler; he was prepared to take risks and to court controversy throughout his career. As his schoolfriend Bryan Stott said, "Brian was a very bright lad, but at school and later on he has done some of the most incredibly stupid things".
Close was born into a working-class family in Town Street, Rawdon, Yorkshire on 24 February 1931 to Harry, a weaver, and Esther (née Barratt), the second eldest of five boys and a girl. Close was brought up in a series of council houses in Rawdon, Guiseley and Yeadon. Although these houses were small, they did have a back yard, where young Brian could practise cricket with his father. Harry Close was himself a keen cricketer, who kept wicket and was a big hitter in the Bradford League, but he never quite made it to the Yorkshire county team.
The hero and dominating figure of Close's home town of Rawdon was Hedley Verity, a great England and Yorkshire player in the period before the Second World War, who also came from Rawdon, and the Verity family continued to live there. Indeed, for a while Close lived in the same Canada Estate that Verity had lived in. At primary school, Close was taught by Grace Verity, Hedley's sister and was friends with two of Verity's children, Wilfred and Douglas. Later Close went to Aireborough Grammar School, where Verity was the best-known alumnus. Close's early years were surrounded by images of local cricketing greatness.
Close appeared set for equal greatness. At school he was a good all-round sportsman, and an excellent cricketer: Aireborough went unbeaten in the six cricketing summers while Close was there, with Close dominating junior level cricket in the area, both within and outside schools. However, he also excelled as a student and seriously considered becoming a doctor and had an offer to go to university after his National Service at age 18, which, in the event, he turned down.
As well as cricket, Close was also proficient at football to such an extent that he was taken on as an amateur by Leeds United. He even became the first Leeds player to play international football at youth level, when in October 1948 he played for England against Scotland at Pittodrie Park in Aberdeen. However, when he got injured playing football, thereby allowing him to play cricket for Yorkshire County Cricket Club in 1949, his sporting ambitions were focused on cricket. Close's excellence at cricket, together with Yorkshire's enthusiasm for it, even encouraged Bradford MP Maurice Webb to intervene to allow Close to complete the 1949 season for Yorkshire, when he would ordinarily have entered into National Service.
Close's 1st first-class season
Close's first first-class games for Yorkshire in the 1949 season were against Cambridge  and then Oxford University.  Close acquitted himself well, although his 8 wickets against Oxford were not enough to prevent Oxford winning by 69 runs. After these games, he continued to impress, particularly as a bowler: in his fifth first-class game, against Essex,  Close took 5 for 58 in Essex's first innings, and top-scored with an undefeated 88. His perfomances for Yorkshire earned him a place in the North v South Test trial. However, he underperformed in that game taking no wickets and scoring only 2 runs.
Close continued to do well for Yorkshire and was selected for the Players against the Gentlemen. At that time class status was still important: professionals, known as Players, were expected to show deference to the amateurs, who were the Gentlemen. Gentlemen did not share changing rooms with Players, and cricket scorecards would differentiate between the two of them, with the names of Gentlemen being prefixed "Mr", the names of the professionals being styled by their surnames and then their initials. This was a time when it was considered necessary to announce on the tannoy errors such as "for F.J. Titmus read Titmus, F.J.".
Close did well for the Players and top-scored with 65. When he reached his fifty, he was congratulated by the Gentlemen's wicket-keeper, Billy Griffith, and in a conversation that now seems innocuous, Grifftith congratulated Close by saying, "Well played, Brian", with Close replying, "Thank you, Billy". However, Close had not referred to Griffith as "Mister", and ten days later was called to see Brian Sellers, a former captain and member of the Yorkshire committee, who reprimanded Close for the effrontery.
At the same time, Close had been selected for the third three-day Test match at Old Trafford against the touring New Zealand cricket team; in this game, Close became, and as of 2005 remains, England's youngest-ever Test player, being aged just 18 years and 149 days when he played against New Zealand. He came in when England needed quick runs, with the instruction from Freddie Brown, the captain, being to "have a look at a couple and then give it a go". Close played two balls back to the bowler, then hit out for the boundary, only to be caught just short, one-handed, for a duck.
Overall, Close's first season must be seen as a resounding success. He played his first Test, and as of 2005 remains the youngest player to have achieved the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a first-class season, and the only player to have achieved this double in his first season as a first-class player. This first season set the flavour of the remainder of Close's career: times of notable success, tarnished by many run-ins with officialdom, and with Sellers in particular. Close himself felt that the Test call-up was an albatross round his neck. He was always referred to as England's youngest player, always with a suggestion of unfulfilled promise.
Tour to Australia in 1950
Professional footballer Close, as he described himself, finally did his National Service on 1950, becoming 22185787 Signalman Close at Catterick. This did not prevent him concentrating on sport, although it did mean his first-class cricket games in 1950 were restricted to turning out for the Combined Services side. His performances both first-class and non-first-class were exceptional enough to attract the attentions of England cricket captain, Freddie Brown. Before calling Close up to the Test side to tour Australia, Brown consulted Close's fellow Yorkshiremen, including Bill Bowes. Bowes pleaded with Brown not to select Close arguing that it was too early, and his early promotion could damage him as a player. Bowes later described Close as having a "tremendous ability spoilt by moments of extreme spontaneity, and of determination marred by rashness"; Brown had ignored Bowes and selected Close; Close was never to be a regular in the England Test squad.
Close's call-up to the Aussie touring party attracted a lot of press interest, and a press conference was called at Catterick to give the press a chance to question Close. However, his moment of glory also gave rise to controversy when one pressman found out that Close was "confined to barracks" for discliplinary reasons at the time his call-up was announced as he had not turned up to play for the Combined Services in a cricket match. The pressman promised to stay silent, but the story circulated in Catterick, and a week later a clerk on the camp newspaper telephoned the Daily Express with the news. However, Close still toured, and his National Service was suspended so he could do so.
Close was the youngest on the tour, and had little in common with the rest of the party; by the end he was not even on talking terms with most of them. After a reasonable start, Close faltered, and then became injured, with a badly pulled groin muscle. It was then that Close was selected to play in the second Test. England were beaten by 28 runs. Australia were dismissed for 194. England however, had collapsed to 54 for 4 when Close came in with only eight deliveries to go before lunch on the second day. Misjudging the bounce on the Melbourne wicket, which was somewhat different to the bounce of English wickets, he swept a ball from Iverson only to get a top edge to Sam Loxton behind square. The dressing room was silent when he returned. England captain, Freddie Brown, when advised that Close was a bit down and needed consolation replied, "Let the blighter stew. He deserves it."
Later, when travelling to Tasmania, he was ordered to play despite doctor's advice to rest, and as Close tried to nurse his injury, he merely got a reputation for malingering and insubordination. He was made to play six of the next seven games. When England won a Test match in Australia for the first time in 13 years in the final Test, Close was not even present, and was not even on speaking terms with the team. Close hated the tour, and even contemplated suicide during it. Nowadays, someone in Close's position would be carefully man-managed and well looked after by captain and team manager. But times were different then, and the Yorkshire stalwarts were proved right: he had been picked too early, and Close would never be a regular Test pick.
Out of the limelight 1951 to 1958
Close in action.The years between 1951 and 1958 were relatively unsuccessful for Close, even though he achieved 1,000 runs in a season 5 times. However, immediately after the tour to Australia, Close did have a good season with the Combined Services, including a century against the touring South Africans. At the end of his National Service in October 1951, he signed for Arsenal, and tried to combine this with his cricket for Yorkshire. But it proved impossible to combine the role of dual professional: Close received permission from Yorkshire captain Norman Yardley to leave the first match of the 1952 cricket season to play for Arsenal. This leave of absence was later rescinded by the match manager in Yardley's absence. Close arrived late at Arsenal and was sacked.
Close enjoyed a good 1952 season at Yorkshire, achieving another double, but played no Test cricket. He played soccer for Bradford City this time, and it was whilst doing this that he picked up a serious knee injury that ended his professional footballing career, and nearly threatened his cricket career. Close played only two first-class matches in the 1953 cricket season.
In 1954 Close scored his first first-class century for Yorkshire, an undefeated 123 for Yorkshire against the touring Pakistanis. In 1955 he scored his first county championship century. He also played one Test match against South Africa, and was 3 wickets short of another 1,000 runs/100 wickets double. He was in the Test selectors' sights again, and was picked for the MCC tour to Pakistan in 1955/6. Close played two Tests against the West Indies in 1957, but did not perform well enough to secure a regular Test place.
Meanwhile, in this period, Yorkshire had not win a single County Championship. At the end of 1958 there was a shake-up in the Yorkshire team. Yorkshire appointed a new captain, Ronnie Burnet, and Johnny Wardle, Yorkshire's top bowler and Close's preferred choice of captain, was dropped for disciplinary reasons. Burnet was 40 and seemed an unlikely man to take Yorkshire to the top of the championship. He had been preferred as it was felt by the Yorkshire committee that he would inject some necessary discipline into the Yorkshire team, and, with tactical support from his senior professional, Brian Close, he succeeded in doing just that.
Yorkshire as County Champions and more controversy
Career record First-class List A
Matches 786 164
Runs scored 34994 3458
Batting average 33.26 23.84
100s/50s 52/171 2/11
Top score 198 131
Balls bowled 69972 2258
Wickets 1171 65
Bowling average 26.42 22.43
5 (FC)/4 (List A) wickets in innings 43 2
10 wickets in match 3 N/A
Best Bowling 8/41 4/9
Catches/Stumpings 813/1 53/0
As of 2 September 1986
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Burnet, aided by Close, was immediately successful, and in 1959, Yorkshire won the county championship. At the end of that season, as Close later heard, Burnet was told that, having just won the championship, he could have another season as captain, but, if he did, Close would then take over. If he resigned at the end of 1959, Vic Wilson could take over as captain in preference to Close. Burnet chose to step down straightaway. Once Wilson took over, with Close still as the senior professional, it seemed that Yorkshire did not know how to lose. Yorkshire won the county championship again in 1960, were second in 1961, and won again in 1962.
Close was called up for his seventh Test in 1961, against Australia. Again, it turned to disaster with Close being blamed for England's defeat. Many considered this unfair, including the Australian captain, Richie Benaud, who said, "I thought the slating of Brian was one of the most unjust things I have ever experienced".
England were chasing 256 to win in just under 4 hours, and got to 150 for 1. Then Ted Dexter and Peter May got out in quick succession to Benaud, who was pitching his leg breaks in the rough outside the right handers' leg stump. This brought Close to the crease. It was the last day of the Test, and the captain, May, was still asking his players to go for the runs. Close took a calculated risk, and chose to sweep Benaud. He took one six off Benaud. Then on the tenth ball he faced, he played another unorthodox sweep which O'Neill took above his head with two hands. Commentators did not appreciate what Close's approach was: to hit Benaud out of the attack and make it easier for right-handed batsmen to score runs. Purists were outraged, and as England collapsed to 201 all out and a 54 run defeat, Close alone took the blame, with some commentators saying he should never play for England again.
At the end of 1962, Wilson retired, and the Yorkshire committee appointed Close captain. According to Bowes "almost overnight it seemed that Brian Close matured". He wrote, "Close's field placings were as intelligent and antagonistic as any seen in the county for 25 years".
Close's attitude, in his own words was that "I've always believed that the team is more important than the individual", and that credo stood Yorkshire in good stead. Ray Illingworth noted that when he went to Leicestershire, the players there were surprised that, while Yorkshire were perennial Championship winners, the batting averages of the lead batsmen tended to languish in the 20s. The answer was that Close had honed them to play the innings required at the right time: when quick runs were required, players did not play for their averages, they played for quick runs.
Close was recalled to the Test squad in 1963, and played his first full series, against the West Indies. His innings in the second Test at Lord's remains his best known. Against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, two of the West Indies' quickest bowlers. In need of quick runs, Close took the battle to the West Indian fast bowlers, daring to advance down the wicket to them. This was an age before body protection and helmets, and time and again the ball struck Close firmly on his body. But he persevered. His 70 very nearly won the game for England, and with no other English player other than Ken Barrington scoring above 20, he saved the game. Set 234 to win, England ended on 228 for 9, with Colin Cowdrey famously coming in to bat (for two balls at the non-striker's end) with his broken arm in plaster.
Although he was dismissed going for runs to win the game at the end, his courage earned him many plaudits, and his shirtless torso, black and blue with where he had been hit, made the front pages of the newspapers the next day. Len Hutton wrote him a congratulatory letter on his innings, and he returned to county cricket the hero. Overall in the series he made 300 runs, but Close did not get selected for the next series.
Close also had immediate success as Yorkshire captain, winning the County Championship in 1963. His success in 1963 saw him named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1964, as one of the five players to make the biggest impact in the English 1963 season. Close went on to captain Yorkshire to the county championship in 1966, 1967 and 1969.
Brian first met his wife Vivienne, an air stewardess with BOAC in Bermuda whilst touring with Yorkshire in 1964, when she was engaged to someone else. He pursued her relentlessly, even though initially she considered him not to be her type. Brian gambled with his love life too: on New Year's Day 1965 he told her that if she didn't agree to marry him, he would never see her again. They married the following March. They went on to have one daughter, Lynn, and a son, Lance.
After the fourth Test of their five-Test series against the West Indies in 1966, England were 3-0 down and had lost the series. Needing someone to come in to revitalise the squad, the England selectors turned to the successful Yorkshire captain, Brian Close. Close knew why he had been selected, and also why many of his men had been. At the pre-match dinner he said, "I shouldn't be here if we hadn't made such a mess of the series. What's more, neither would a few of you. You are here because you are all fighters, and we are going to keep the pressure on and keep it on for five days." What Close did was to engender a battling spirit for the final Test Match. So, when England were 166 for 7 in reply to the West Indies' 268 all out, they did not give up. Instead, a century from Tom Graveney and John Murray, and half-centuries from Ken Higgs and John Snow, saw England to 527. The highlight of the match was when West Indian captain Gary Sobers, who had a batting average in the series of well over 100, came in to bat at 137/5 with his side still 128 runs from making England bat again. Close knew that Sobers was a fine hooker, and he knew how he wanted to approach him, so he asked John Snow to bowl a bouncer first up. Everything went to plan: Sobers hooked, edged the ball to his body, and it rebounded to Close at his customary short leg position, close to the batsman, ready to take the catch or a full blow to the body had Sobers middled it. Sobers c. Close, b. Snow 0 off one ball. England went on to win the game by an innings and 34 runs.
There was no overseas tour in 1966/7, so the next game Close captained was the first Test at Headingley against India in 1967. Of the 16 Tests India had previously played in England, England had won 12 and drawn 4, and there were no expectations that there would be anything other than an England victory in the 3-match series. But they still needed to be beaten, and England, under Close, won each game convincingly.
Pakistan toured England in the second half of the summer of 1967. The first match of that three-Test series was a rain-affected draw. The second Test was won comfortably by England by 10 wickets. It seemed certain that Close would be selected to captain England in their 1967/8 tour to the West Indies.
Newspaper reports when Close was axed in 1967 for time-wasting in a county game. Close is quoted as saying, "This last fortnight was the worst of my life...all that I am guilty of is playing cricket to the best of my ability for my employers".Then on 16, 17 and 18 August, Yorkshire, captained by Close, played Warwickshire at Birmingham. Warwickshire had been set 142 to win in 100 minutes. When the match ended, Warwickshire were 133/5 and the match was drawn, 9 runs short of the victory target. However Yorkshire managed to bowl only 24 overs, with only 2 being bowled in the last 15 minutes. Whilst it was wet, and Yorkshire had to dry the ball often, this was seen as unacceptable time-wasting and gamesmanship. Close did not help himself as he personally berated a Warwickshire spectator who he thought had called out something inopportune, though in the event, he picked on the wrong man. After the game, Close said to the Warwickshire captain, MJK Smith, "Bad luck, Mike, you played better than we did. But I couldn't give you the game." Smith appeared to accept this when he replied, "I quite understand."
Brian Sellers, chairman of Yorkshire and the one who berated Close in 1949 for saying "Thank you, Billy", then made matters worse for Close by sending an apology to the MCC. In 1967 England touring sides were still MCC sides rather than "England" sides, and the MCC took the opportunity to overrule the selectors who picked Close as captain. Close, whose temperament had been shown lacking, would not go to the West Indies; Cowdrey would captain the MCC England squad instead. And so it was that the Wednesday before the third and final Test against Pakistan, Close was told he had been stripped of the captaincy for the upcoming tour.
The third test against Pakistan was Close's final test as Captain. He went on to lead England to a comprehensive 8 wicket victory and win the series 2-0. His record as captain was played 7, won 6, drawn 1, the best record of any England captain who has captained in more than 2 Tests.
The last years at Yorkshire
In 1969 Close played only 18 County Championship games as he was plagued by a calf injury, although he did lead Yorkshire to victory in the one-day Gillette Cup for a second time, the first time being in 1965. A shoulder injury saw Close miss much of the 1970 season, and Yorkshire fell down the County Championship table, but once Close was fit again, they had an extraordinary run and finished a creditable fourth.
Close, however, has always opposed one-day cricket, believing that it lessens players' abilities. Mike Procter notes that when Gloucestershire played Yorkshire in the John Player 40-over League in 1970, with Yorkshire 3 wickets down needing 6 an over, word came from Close in the dressing room: "No chance of winning this one, lads — just get some batting practice."
Yorkshire had a policy of not offering contracts to its players, but in return they would tell cricketers by the end of July if they did not require their services the next summer. When July 1970 came and went, Close must have thought he was safe. However, Close offended the Lancashire president, the Honourable Lionel Lister when Lister entered the away captain's changing room to speak to Close after Lancashire, Yorkshire's arch rivals, had beaten them at Old Trafford to retain the one-day John Player League trophy. Close, who may not have known who Lister was, offered Lister some choice words. Then Lister immediately told Brian Sellers, his Yorkshire counterpart, of the insult.
Close wrote a letter to Lister apologising, and gave a copy to a Yorkshire committeeman. But the letter was never presented to the committee as a whole, which voted to sack him as the first agenda item on their next meeting. And so it was that in November 1970, Close was summoned to see Sellers, when he was given the choice of either resigning or being sacked. To begin with, he chose to resign. But later that day, and after speaking to his legal adviser, he retracted this, leaving Yorkshire to sack him. The reason, according to Yorkshire, was Close's dislike for the new 40-over one-day cricket league, that was first played in 1969 (Close thought it led to bad habits and negative play) and because Close had supposedly not brought on the younger players.
After being sacked by Yorkshire, the 40 year old Close received offers from many other counties, including Lancashire, Glamorgan, Middlesex and Leicestershire. But he turned all these down, preferring to accept a non-captain's role at Somerset.
The rest from the captaincy did Close good, he went through the 1971 season without injury and scored 1,389 runs, including a century in his first game for Somerset, and a century in the game against Yorkshire. In 1972 he was awarded the CBE by the Queen for his services to cricket. Close was also promoted to Somerset captain. He soon gained the same respect and commitment from his players he had at Yorkshire. He was also called up to the England one-day squad to captain them in a three-match one-day international series against Australia, which England won 2-1, when the regular England captain and his former Yorkshire team-mate, Ray Illingworth, injured his ankle in the last Test.
In 1972/3 Close led a two-match tour of the "International Wanderers" to Rhodesia. The next two winters he captained the Derrick Robins' XI tours to apartheid South Africa. Robins' tours were the closest thing South Africa had to Test match cricket at that time, and for his efforts in the first of the tours to South Africa, Close was named as one of the four South African Cricket Annual Cricketers of the Year in 1974.
During his time at Somerset, Viv Richards and Ian Botham joined the county squad, and Close's leadership and discipline helped them become the great cricketers they are. Botham said of Close, "There was a genuine enthusiasm for cricket which rubbed off on all those playing alongside him. You couldn’t help but get excited by the game."
The final Test innings
In 1976, the 45-year old Brian Close was called up for the first three Tests in England's five-Test series against the West Indies, who were no less ferocious than when Close was battered by them in 1963. In the second innings of the third Test at Old Trafford, Close's final Test innings, Close opened with the 39-year old John Edrich. Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel, a trio of fast bowlers pounded them for two and a half hours. It was one of the most brutal displays of fast bowling ever seen. Wisden said, "Close and Edrich defended their wickets and themselves against fast bowling, which was frequently too wild and hostile to be acceptable". Close himself said, "It must have been the worst wicket I experienced in Test cricket. The faster the West Indians bowled the worse it got because the balls broke through the surface of the wicket. They exploded and flew at you." And it was with this innings of 20 runs off 108 balls in 162 minutes that Close completed his Test career, under a vicious barrage, standing tall and taking the damage as he had against the West Indies at Lord's 13 years ago in 1963. After that, both Close and Edrich were dropped for the fourth Test. The interval between Close's first and last Test matches was 27 years, the second longest after Wilfred Rhodes. Only one man, Zimbabwean John Traicos, has played a Test match at a greater age since.
By the time he retired from county cricket at the end of the 1977 season, Close had achieved folk hero status for Somerset. He went on to play for Todmorden in the Lancashire League. Close also had a stint as an England selector between 1979 and 1981 and in 1984 he was elected to the Yorkshire committee. He became chairman of the cricket subcommittee, which led him into more controversy and conflict with the captain, Geoffrey Boycott.
After his retirement from Somerset, Close continued to play at the Scarborough Festival against the touring international teams, first for TN Pearce’s XI in 1978 and then for his own XI from 1982 to 1986. In 1986, aged 55, and playing his last-ever first-class innings, Close needed 10 runs to achieve a career-total 35,000 runs. When he scored 4 he glanced a ball down leg-side to the wicket-keeper and walked. Afterwards, the New Zealanders said that if they'd known how near he was to the landmark, they would have let him stay, but Close would have none of it – he was out, and that was that. Close's 786 first-class matches leave him 10th on the all-time list. Only four other outfielders have taken more catches.
Close continued to turn out to help train Yorkshire youngsters; sometimes captaining games with them and taking the short leg position without a cap, a position he had taken so many times in the past.
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