Brian Close (1931) was unflinchingly courageous, whether standing (never crouching) at square leg or taking the fastest deliveries of the world’s quickest bowlers on the body. He was unapologetically obstinate and a daring gambler, both as player and captain, who was the epitome of positive cricket. Despite playing in only 22 Tests, Brian Close was a remarkable character and a legend in both Yorkshire and English cricket.
He had tremendous all-round sporting talent, playing professional soccer for Leeds United, Arsenal and Bradford City before a knee injury forced him to retire. He then became a single-handicap golfer, playing almost equally well right- or left-handed. In cricket he could have become one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game, but he is remembered even more for who he was that what he did.
He was just over six foot tall, with an athletic frame and balding as his career progressed. He was born in Rawdon, near Leeds, the second in a family of six. His father, Harry Close, was wicket-keeper for the local club and the boys were often at the ground on practice nights and for Saturday matches. They played their own games of cricket and soccer behind the pavilion, with other boys, and there Brian developed his prodigious natural talent.
Brian attended Aireborough Grammar School, and his talent was quickly noticed. His sports master sent him for coaching under George Hirst, and he played representative games at schoolboy level in both cricket and soccer. 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.
He intended to go to university, but could not be accepted until he had completed his two years of national service, so he turned to professional sport, signing up for Leeds United and attending the Yorkshire nets for coaching. In 1948 he played just one match for the Yorkshire second team without batting or bowling, but his progress during winter nets so impressed the Yorkshire hierarchy that they plunged him straight into the first team for the university matches at the start of 1949. Also making their Yorkshire débuts were Fred Trueman and Frank Lowson.
With 86 runs and 12 wickets in the two university matches, Brian kept his place in the Yorkshire team and continued to thrive. He did so well that he was chosen to play for England against New Zealand in the Third Test at Old Trafford, Manchester. It is very rare for a cricketer to play Test cricket in his first season, and this would probably not have happened against more renowned opponents. It was also before he received his county cap, and he remains England’s youngest Test cricketer at the age of 18 years and 149 days.
Statistically his Test début was not a success, as he took one wicket for 85 runs and failed to score with the bat. With his side needing quick runs when he came in at number nine, he tried to hit his third ball for six and was caught on the boundary; as he did throughout his career, he tried to fulfil the needs of his side.
He returned to play for Yorkshire, and soon afterwards completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in a season, although as the long season drew to an end he began to show signs of burnout. In doing so he set up two records that will probably never be equalled: he is the only player to record the double in his first season, and the youngest to do so.