Former England captain Close dies aged 84
Brian Close, the former captain of England, Yorkshire and Somerset and one of cricket's most admired characters, has died at the age of 84. He passed away at his home near Bradford on Sunday, Yorkshire said.
Allrounder Close, known for his courage and tenacity at the crease and on the field, first played for England in 1949 at the age of 18 years and 149 days - making him still England's youngest debutant. Such was his reputation for bravery that he was famously recalled as a 45-year-old to face down West Indies' fearsome attack in 1976.
Close also relished fielding in close, particularly at forward short-leg, and was not worried about being hit. "How can the ball hurt you? It's only on you for a second," he said.
His England career encompassed 22 Tests, seven as captain. He also led Yorkshire to four Championship titles, including their hat-trick of victories from 1966-68.
A falling out with Yorkshire led to his sacking and he saw out the remainder of his playing career with Somerset, where he was a strong influence on the young Ian Botham - he called Close "the bravest man I ever played with" - and along with the likes of Viv Richards and Joel Garner helped lift the club's fortunes.
His links with Yorkshire remained strong, however, and he served as the club's president between 2008 and 2010. He was a life member and even in his 80s could be spotted in the stands - usually chatting to Dickie Bird and Geoffrey Boycott - when England played at Headingley.
Bird, speaking at the Ageas Bowl where Yorkshire were taking on Hampshire in the Championship, said that Close had been unwell but his death had come as a shock. Yorkshire's players took the field wearing black armbands.
"I was completely stunned when Jason Gillespie and Anthony McGrath came out this morning to tell me the sad news that Brian had passed away," he said. "I felt very stunned and very numb. I had a lump in my throat and there were a few tears because I have lost a damn good friend.
"He was a great captain. He led from the front and was never beat. He would come back from all odds. He was a brilliant bloke to play for. He was as straight as a gun barrel.
"He was a really good all-round cricketer. A good batsman, a good bowler and, of course, brilliant in the field.
"He was a character in many ways. He used to call me 'lad'. He would have a cigarette on him and I'd say 'would you like a Whiskey Brian?' He said 'yes, I would. Make it a double!' He will be sadly missed."
Speaking at the toss, Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale, whose team clinched the Championship for the second year running last week, said Close had been an inspiration.
"Brian Close was a legend," he said. "It's a sad day to see him pass away. He's been around at Headingley throughout my career, and he always spoke to the lads and has been an inspiration. We're proud to win back-to-back Championships, but it's a sad day for Yorkshire cricket."
Former England captain and Yorkshire batsman Michael Vaughan also tweeted his condolences: "Such a sad day.. He was a true inspiration to all of us .. Thanks Brian for helping me as a kid growing up at Yorkshire... #RIPClosey."
As a run-scorer, England never saw the best of Close, but his relish for playing fast bowling - before the advent of helmets and much of the protection batsmen have come to rely on - was legendary. He was unafraid of being hit and was left with bruises all over his body after his final Test at Old Trafford in 1976.
"Michael Holding and Andy Roberts peppered him with short-pitched bowling," Bird said. "If I'd have been there as an umpire, I'd have stepped in and stopped it straightaway. But Closey was chesting them away, they tell me. He was a tough guy.
"He led from the front, and I thought he was a magnificent captain. We have lost a true legend of the game."
Close scored almost 35,000 runs in his first-class career, with 52 hundreds, as well as taking 1171 wickets bowling medium pace and offspin. He held more than 800 catches, making him one of the most prolific outfielders in history.
Captain of Yorkshire from 1963 until 1970, he oversaw two Gillette Cup victories in addition to his Championship success. It was during this period that he was handed the England captaincy but, despite winning six Tests out of seven, he lost the job a year later, in 1967, after a controversial Championship match between Yorkshire and Warwickshire in which Close was accused of timewasting.
Close was awarded a CBE for services to cricket in 1972 but it was nine years before he was selected again by England, when his unflinching response to a West Indian bombardment cemented his reputation as one of cricket's toughest guys. The title of his autobiography, I Don't Bruise Easily, summed up his approach to the game and life.