Monday, 22 July 2013

The insane bravery of England cricketer, Brian Close: Old Trafford, 1976 (commentary kicks in after a bit)

Former Bermondsey barrow-boy, British ballroom dancing champion and Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman was interviewed on Test Match Special the other day. The amiable cockney is also a judge on the US version of the show. In America, apparently, cricket is considered a bit of a girlie sport (as is football), and Len has been trying to explain to them that it's actually as butch as it gets (although telling them that baseball is a children's game fit only for cissies might not be the best way of going about it). 

Agreeing that cricket was a sport for Real Men, Jonathan Agnew, Goodman's interviewer, mentioned the great battle between Brian Close and the West Indies bowler Michael Holding (now an excellent Sky Sports commentator) 37 years ago at Trent Bridge. Famously, England's captain at the time, Tony Grieg, set the test series up nicely by stating that he wanted to make the West Indies "grovel". As the Windies had the most murderously fearsome fast bowling attack ever assembled, and as Greig's remarks were delivered in a heavy South African accent, this was basically an invitation to the West Indies to try to kill England batsmen by hurling a heavy, compacted, rock-hard missile at their heads at over 90 miles an hour.

England managed to draw the first two tests, but the Old Trafford test turned the tide, and the tourists won the last three. Brian Close, a former Yorkshire and England captain, had been the youngest batsman ever to play for England (18), but his career had never quite reached the heights his talent and courage merited - mainly, it's thought, because, like many Yorkshiremen, he got right up the collective nose of the cricketing establishment. He was recalled to the England team at the ripe old age of 45.  Close held up one end at Old Trafford for at least 45 minutes while the 22-year-old, 6'4" Michael Holding tried by turns to decapitate him and to drill the ball through his body. His courage seems even more astonishing now, in an age where protective helmets are de rigeur. 

Close used to field regularly at short leg, a matter of feet away from the bat, again, without a helmet. He made a miraculous catch in that position one day when a batsman smashed a ball right at him. Afterwards, a team-mate asked him what would have happened if the ball had hit his head."He'd have been caught at second slip," was the laconic reply.

Mind you, I'm not sure this performance represents Brian Close's most valiant moment. He appeared in a television advert for a razor in the '70s, which ended with him delivering the immortal line, "That were a real close shave!" It was undoubtedly the worst acting performance by a sportsman until Jensen Button started doing adverts for Santander. 

The old boy's still alive, I'm delighted to report, despite the best efforts of opposition players, and appeared at a public event with Michael Holding last year to chat about their memorable Manchester encounter. I would say they don't make them like that any more, but, given 22-year old Yorkshireman Joe Root's expolosion onto the international cricket team, I'm not so sure.


Brian Close has died, aged 84. RIP, you noble warrior. If they need a short leg in heaven, the position's yours, Closey. 


  1. If you want to see the real might of the West Indies in their glory days [70s&80s] please watch the 2010 British documentary "Fire in Babylon".

    Re your remarks about Brian Close he took similar punishment from Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths in 1963 when he scored 70 [the match when the Kipper came on at the end with a broken wrist]. In fact, were you not actually at this match?

    1. Thanks, I'll look out for that. You're right - I did attend the Kipper's finest hour: a close shave indeed. Crowds behaved more decorously back then, but I've never known such tension. My pal Johnny Silverman's dad took us to it. But I'm ashamed to admit I'd forgotten that Close also saw off Hall and "Chucker" Griffiths that day - I suppose Cowdrey's heroics overshadowed everything else. Nice to reflect that both gentlemen and players displayed equal amounts of grit when it was needed.

  2. I've watched that clip. Today's prima donnas are sissy's compared to this balding harmless looking fella. But bloody hell, the heart of a lion!! Salute you sir.
    R. I. P.