CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1964

Brian Close

Because he was senior professional with the club, and the job was his by right, Yorkshire in 1963 offered the captaincy to their all-rounder Brian Close -- left-handed batsman and right-arm utility bowler -- who hitherto had never quite accomplished what was expected of him. It was a trial appointment. Nobody quite knew how it would work out.

The result was astonishing. Almost overnight it seemed that Brian Close matured. He showed a knowledge of his own team and the play of opponents which immediately stamped him as a thinker and tactician. His field placings were as intelligent and antagonistic as any seen in the county for twenty-five years and, like Brian Sellers before him, if a fieldsman was required in a suicide position the captain himself was first for the job.

He kept the fiery and volatile Trueman happy, used him in effective short bursts, and balanced those occasions when he asked for long and sustained effort, with opportunities to bowl at tail-enders.

Determination and purpose came into his own cricket. He regained his place in the England team and won national approval for the unflinching way he played the West Indies fast bowlers, Hall and Griffith. To his own great delight he saw Yorkshire, in their centenary year, to their twenty-eighth outright Championship success.

Dennis Brian Close, the second eldest in a family of four boys and one girl, was born at Rawdon, near Leeds, on February 24, 1931. His father, Harry Close, was a well-known wicket-keeper in the local Leagues and it was understandable that the boys were taken down to the Rawdon ground by father on practice nights and for the Saturday matches.

Says Brian, "We didn't interfere with the seniors. We played much more serious games with other boys behind the pavilion and, if we were beaten at cricket, we challenged our opponents to football."

It was soon obvious that he had above average ability. He was a natural ball player, but, far more important in a working-class family he was good at lessons, too. He passed his 11-plus examination when he was 10 and went to Aireborough Grammar School -- where Yorkshire and England left-arm bowler Hedley Verity had attended years earlier.

The possibilities of young Close were soon noted by the sports master. He was sent to receive coaching by the Yorkshire coach, George Hirst. Honours at both cricket and football came easily. He played in schoolboy representative matches at both sports.

At soccer he was signed on amateur forms by Leeds United when he was fourteen and a year later, as an inside-forward, toured Holland with the West Riding F.A. team.

At cricket he played for the Yorkshire Federation against the Sussex Schoolboys when he was fifteen, and at seventeen playing for Yeadon against Salts, in the Bradford League, he scored his first century -- a success which brought him selection for the Yorkshire Colts against Sussex Second XI.

As a scholar he was similarly outstanding and soon after his seventeenth birthday he had passed his Higher School Certificate and was all set for University. Unfortunately, however, the University would not take him until after he had completed his two years of National Service which started at eighteen and, in the meantime, Close decided to try his hand at being a professional sportsman.

He signed professional forms with Leeds United and during the winter attended the Yorkshire nets for coaching at cricket. He was changed from being a seam bowler to being an off-spinner.

Brian was just eighteen at the start of the 1949 cricket season when Yorkshire chose him for the two matches against the Universities. A splendid fieldsman, hard-hitting batsman and by now a very useful off-spin bowler he did so well that Yorkshire extended the trial into the County Championship matches.

Against Worcestershire at Sheffield he claimed five wickets and against Essex at Headingley he scored 88 not out and took five wickets for 58 runs. Success followed success. He kept on playing for Yorkshire.

He was chosen to play for England in the Third Test against New Zealand at Old Trafford, the youngest player ever picked for England, and though he was dismissed for a duck and took only one wicket for 85 runs young Close had every reason to be pleased with his start in professional sport. He proceeded to perform the double and was given his Yorkshire cap.

His call up for the Royal Signals came on October 6, 1949. He played soccer for the Services and for Leeds United reserves on occasion when leave could be arranged. During the summer of 1950 he did so well in cricket for The Army and Combined Services that M.C.C. asked for his release so that he could go with F.R. Brown's team to Australia. As sportsmen are considered ambassadors for their country the request was granted.

In the first match of the tour against Western Australia he scored a century but then came failures. Lindwall and Miller soon found they could hurry him into mistakes by attacking the leg stump. He suffered a groin injury, too, and altogether he had a most unhappy tour.

Back in England in 1951 he scored a century for Combined Services against Cambridge, 96 not out against Oxford, 66 and 165 against South Africa and 100 for The Army against the Navy. It seemed he had recovered from his disappointments in Australia and, on leaving the Forces in October, he took on the other half of his professional hopes and signed with Arsenal.

All went well until a Cup game at Highbury clashed with the opening fixture of the 1952 cricket season with the Yorkshire game at Lord's against M.C.C. Close tried to play in both matches but--because of a misunderstanding with the Yorkshire captain -- he arrived half an hour late at Highbury and saw his team beaten 3-1. He was sacked.

With Yorkshire, however, he again performed the double, but instead of settling for professional cricket only Close had another try at football, this time with Bradford City, and he suffered a knee injury which badly interfered with his cricket the next season and kept him out of football, too.

Back in cricket again in 1954, Close scored his first century for Yorkshire, against Pakistan. In 1955 he was only three wickets short of his third double and M.C.C. chose him for the tour of Pakistan. He was now established in the Yorkshire team and to the delight of many of his friends had given up all ideas of continuing as a professional footballer. Could he find a regular Test place?

In 1957 he played in two Tests against West Indies. In 1959, he appeared in one Test against India. Although he was a splendid all-rounder, England relied on a strong representation of specialist cricketers. In the Yorkshire side, Close was sharing the off-spin bowling with Illingworth. England had Laker.

Close went back to his medium pace seam bowling and in 1960 as senior professional under Yorkshire's professional captain Vic Wilson he took sixty-four wickets and scored 1,699 runs with one really great innings of 198 against Surrey at The Oval.

In 1962 his Yorkshire benefit realised £8,154 and once again he earned selection for England against Australia at Old Trafford. In the first innings he scored 33, but batting in the second innings at a vital stage of the match he lost his wicket with a cross bat sweep so incomprehensible that even his friends doubted whether he had the temperament for the big match occasion. It seemed he had had his last chance to prove himself.

And that was the position until he became the Yorkshire captain. Responsibility seemed to bring out all the best in him. The England selectors were not long in recognising the change and Brian Close, playing in all five Tests against West Indies, finished third in the England Test averages with 315 runs in ten innings. In all cricket last year he scored 1,529 runs, average 32.53, and he took 43 wickets at 27.30 each.

His winter occupation is the Brian Close (Paints) Ltd. and his recreation is golf. It is interesting that from being a four handicap right-hand golfer he has turned left-handed. Within a month he was down to nine handicap and says "I could do a lot better with more practice."

© John Wisden & Co