Brian Close – The Youngest Player Represented England in 1949
Brian Close was born in Leeds in 1931 where he began his momentous sporting career. On leaving school he joined Leeds United as a professional footballer and later moved to Arsenal and eventually to Bradford City. Unfortunately, Brian Close was forced to retire from soccer due to a serious injury to his right leg and knee.
Soccer’s loss was cricket’s gain and Brian concentrated on his cricket career. Then having joined Yorkshire County in 1949. He was soon picked to represent England in the Third Test against New Zealand making him the youngest player ever to play test cricket for England. Brian Close has captained England on seven occasions, winning six matches and drawing one (1966/67). In 1972 he led England against the Australians in the One Day Series and won.
Brian’s achievements were recognized by the Queen when he was awarded the CBE for his Services to Cricket in 1972. He continued to play until his retirement from full-time cricket in 1977. Brian has worked in various roles and has been a member of many cricketing committees, including the Test Selection Committee, the Yorkshire Cricket Committee, the TCCB Cricket Committee, and Overseas Tours Committee.
Brian Close has also worked tirelessly for many charity organizations including the Lords’ Taverners, the Variety Club of Great Britain, SPARKS, and the Home Farm Trust. He was brave to the point of foolhardiness, fielding at suicidal short square leg, seemingly oblivious to the dangers.
Once, when a ball had ricocheted off his head to be caught at gully, a horrified fielder asked him: “What if it had hit you on the temple?” “He’d have been caught at cover,” said Close. As a captain he was adventurous, always trying to make things happen. “We’d try and take a wicket even when we’d no right to expect one” he recalled. He was also successful.
By 1967 he had captained Yorkshire to two successive County Championships and was – rightly in the view of cricket lovers everywhere – captain of England. Under him, they had won five out of six Test matches. And England fans were looking forward to seeing the redoubtable Close leading England in the West Indies.
West Indies were a formidable side with Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall probably the world’s premier fast bowlers of the time. Also, the Lance Gibbs, an off-spinner who would walk into just about any Test side, and the incomparable Garfield Sobers, skipper, fast bowler, slow bowler, a left-handed bat, and a great fielder. There were Clive Lloyd and Rohan Kanhai, as well.
Then came August 18, 1967, at Edgbaston, the Championship was at Yorkshire’s mercy but Warwickshire had the upper hand in their match. Needing 142 in 102 minutes to win, Warwickshire found themselves batting on a wet pitch with a ball that needed frequent drying. Yorkshire would get two points from a drawn game.
It was at this point that the cricket world was divided into two camps. Did Yorkshire’s drying of the ball, discussion of field-placing, and general demeanor on the field constitute deliberate time-wasting, ensuring a draw? Or was Brian Close doing his job, within the laws of the game, to do the best for his side?
Just under a fortnight later, the MCC made up its own mind. Brian Close was sacked as England captain and replaced for the West Indies tour by Colin Cowdrey. The decision divided English cricket and the T&A, speaking its mind firmly, made headlines for the first time since its reporting had helped to precipitate the Abdication crisis 31 years before.
In a front-page comment, headed in large white on black letters ‘IT’S LUNACY’ the T&A gave vent to feelings that were often hidden in the heart of northerners but were never so far buried that they didn’t sometimes pop vehemently out. Defending Close’s tactics at Birmingham it pointed out: ‘Every team is guilty of this type of gamesmanship at some time or another and the present championship system, which awards two points for avoiding defeat, actively encourages it.’
At Edgbaston, not even the umpires kept to the rules. They did not consult together, as the law requires them, to warn Brian Close that his conduct might be illegal. Then the writer began to get into his stride, claiming ‘there would have been no fuss had Close belonged to a county other than Yorkshire’. But it was the conclusion that really started the letters flying: ‘England has chosen to do without his qualities because he is not one of the “magic circles”, does not have a double-barreled name, went to the wrong school, and speaks the wrong language. But above all, he comes from Yorkshire and that is offensive enough for some.”
The T&A comment, having firmly nailed its colors to the mast by surrounding the story of the sacking and the comment with a thick black border, was quoted the length and breadth of the country. And it was from the length and breadth of the country that letters began arriving at the T&A.
But Close remained sacked and Cowdrey took an England side to the West Indies. In the interests of fairness, it has to be said that Cowdrey, in the winter of 1967-68, was the last England captain to win a Test series in the Caribbean. It also has to be said that he wouldn’t, but for one of the most generous declarations in the history of the game (and his second of the match) by Garfield Sobers. He set England 214 to win in the last innings and, with Charlie Griffith out of the attack, England knocked the runs off for the loss of three wickets, Cowdrey hitting 71.
It’s as well because he would have come back from the West Indies vilified by Close supporters who would have been fervent in their beliefs as to What Might Have Been. Of course, there was consolation waiting in the wings in the shape of Raymond Illingworth, who left Yorkshire, went to Leicestershire, and turned them into a formidable force before becoming England captain and getting his hands on cricket’s Holy Grail – the Ashes, won in Australia. Brian Close died on 13 September 2015 at the age of 84 in Baildon, Yorkshire England.