Monday, September 14, 2015

Brian Close: The greatest captain England hardly had

Brian Close, the former England cricket captain, died today aged 84.

He played his first test in 1949 as an 18-year-old (still a record for the youngest England debutant) and his last in 1976 aged 45. Yet during this extraordinary span of 27 years, he played only 22 tests.

Vic Marks pays tribute to him for the Guardian:
Closey was my first county captain. He made an immediate impact upon me at Somerset; it may have taken a little longer for me to impact upon him. Unwittingly Close had an enormous impact on all of the youngsters at Taunton but most significantly on the young Ian Botham and Viv Richards. Talk to this be-knighted pair now and they will happily sing his praises into the early hours. 
Close, they recognise, taught them so much by his fearless example and a few uncompromising observations to boot. Botham attracted the most colourful bollockings from his captain in those days but once delivered the matter was over in seconds. 
Close, we discovered, was selfless, generous, hilariously funny (although he did not always appreciate why), a wee bit mad and awesomely brave.
Close was a hugely successful captain of the 1960s - his strength was man management, while Ray Illingworth looked after the tactics. He captained England in seven tests, winning six of them and drawing one.

He lost the captaincy in 1967 after he was deemed to have wasted time to save Yorkshire from defeat. The England selectors wanted to keep him, but the suits at Lord's overruled them and he was replaced by the establishment favourite Colin Cowdrey.

Close was made captain for the last test of 1966 after England had already lost the series to the West Indies. And it happens I have inside knowledge of how he set about it.

Years ago I was watching Northamptonshire play when Colin Milburn came walking round the boundary with someone. They sat down behind me and I could not but overhear their conversation.

Milburn told his companion that Brian Close had walked into the selection meeting with a piece of paper. "That's my team," he said, slapping it down on the table. And the other selectors let him have it.

You can see that team on Cricinfo, but I have a feeling that either John Snow or Ken Higgs (who shared a record last wicket stand) was a late replacement after another bowler dropped out with injury.

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