Much has been written about Brian Close, a name which may not be remembered by the present generation of cricket fans. Admittedly his individual performances were not that impressive-no centuries or fivers in Tests. But he did provide effective leadership as captain in 1966-67 when the morale of England’s Test team was quite low. His captaincy record was 6 wins and a draw out of 7 Tests, probably surpassed only by one-offs like Ravi Shastri who won the only Test he captained. More than his statistical record, it was his typical Yorkshire doggedness which he is remembered for.
He remains the only England player to make his Test debut before his 19th birthday, being 18 year and 149 days old in his debut against New Zealand in 1949. He played his last Test 27 years later, in a career spanning four decades.
A little more about the circumstances in which he became captain. In 1966 the all-conquering West Indies team captained by Gary Sobers had won 3 of the first 4 Tests (two by an innings, another by over a hundred runs). When Close was pulled out of near-oblivion as captain, the 5th Test started predictably.
In reply to WI’s 268, England got to 166/7 with Close run out for single figures. Then followed one of the greatest tail-end recoveries in all Tests:
Graveney and JT Murray put on 217 for the 8th wicket, while the no 10 and 11 (K Higgs and JA Snow) scored fifties apiece in a stand for 128 for the 10th wicket, bringing the total up to 527. Stung by this unexpected resistance, West Indies made 225 and lost by an innings and 34 runs.
In 1967, he oversaw a 3-0 sweep of India which had its moments in the first Test, remembered by Boycott being dropped for an over-cautious double century and Pataudi’s fightback of 64 and 148. India collapsed abjectly in the next two Tests. The only blemish of the summer was a draw against Pakistan, which Pakistan saved with some difficulty thanks mainly to Hanif Mohammed’s 187 not out.
It was equally typical of Close that he got into a quarrel with a spectator in a county match later in the season. This led to him losing the England captaincy as well as his exit from the team. It was thought that was the last international cricket had seen of him, until he was recalled to play 3 Tests against Clive Lloyd’s team of 1976. Here is a typical picture of that series (when helmets were not in common use).