Danny Hall: Remembering Yorkshire and England's Brian Close, one of the greatest - and the bravest

Brian Close wore many blows during his career for the good of the teamBrian Close wore many blows during his career for the good of the team
Brian Close wore many blows during his career for the good of the team
From an England Test debut at 18, to a final, nerve-shredding onslaught against the mighty West Indies at the grand old age of 45.

Brian Close's cricketing career was one less ordinary. But it told the tale of the man, too; brave, talented, stubborn.

The debate over the 'Greatest Living Yorkshireman' reared its head last year, when David Cameron chose William Hague and Geoff Boycott was affronted. Close would have looked on with typical grace and humour, but you could have raised a few votes in his favour amongst the members at Headingley.

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No more, though. Close, following a typically-stoic battle with cancer, passed away earlier today, at the age of 84. The outpouring of grief said much about his standing in the game, with both Yorkshire and England.

The stats speak for themselves; he finished his career just six short of 35,000 first-class runs, with 52 centuries, and took 1,171 wickets, too.

But Close's greatest asset was intangible; it was between the ears, and under his shirt. Heart and courage.

As Dickie Bird, a close friend and former team-mate, said yesterday, Close stood up to everyone. Took on anyone. And feared no-one.

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"He will have been over the moon to see us win back-to-back Championship titles," Bird said.

"I remember Brian fondly, sat in the dressing room with a cup of tea, Sporting Life on the table and a cigarette on. He was as happy as a sandboy!

"He will be sadly missed."

Close's first County Championship season with Yorkshire saw him score 1,000 runs and take 100 wickets. That was in 1949, and his record as the youngest player to have done so still stands today. It caught the attention of the England selectors, too, and they pulled him out of National Service to travel to Australia to play for the Ashes.

Close made his Three Lions bow Down Under at just over 18 - the youngest England debutant, a record which still stands today - but a thigh injury hampered his progress.

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Close wearing his beloved Yorkshire capClose wearing his beloved Yorkshire cap
Close wearing his beloved Yorkshire cap

He later led his country and, in terms of win ratio, he is the most successful captain England have ever had; winning six and drawing one of his seven Tests. He was stripped of the captaincy after a 'time-wasting' scandal when trying to secure the County Championship title for Yorkshire.

For a proud Yorkie like Close, club would always come before country.

But an international swansong was on the horizon. Nine years had passed since Close's last Test for England, when the West Indies arrived at Old Trafford in 1976 with three outright fast bowlers; Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel.

England opted for experience to counter the onslaught and recalled Close, who was 45 by this point. His opening partner, John Edrich, was 39.

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The proud Yorkie played for England on just 22 occasionsThe proud Yorkie played for England on just 22 occasions
The proud Yorkie played for England on just 22 occasions

After being blown away for just 71 in their first innings - with Holding taking five, Roberts three and Daniel two - England were set a target of 552 to win the game.

What followed next was one of the most brutal displays of fast bowling the game has ever seen, in a sort of hybrid era when snarling bowlers weren't shy to deliver searing bouncers on unpredictable pitches, to batsmen with no helmets and minimal other protection.

YouTube footage immortalises Close's efforts in history as the 45-year-old, with nothing more than pads, bat and a towel for a thigh-pad, defied Holding in particular for almost three hours before eventually succumbing, for 20.

Close removed his shirt in the dressing room and was beyond black and blue. But, as one teammate remarked, all the marks were on the right side of the left-hander's body. He hadn't once turned away from the ball.

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Afterwards, he famously remarked: How can the ball hurt you? It's only on you for a second!

A gifted sportsman, Close also played football for Bradford, Leeds and Arsenal, and played golf off a single-digit handicap with both hands. He also seemingly fancied himself as a boxer, too; joking that, if he went the 15-round distance with Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend might just shade the verdict. But, Close said, I'll be damned if I let him knock me out.

He will be remembered as one of Yorkshire's greatest - and, certainly, bravest. When it came to heart, no-one else came Close.