WITHOUT wishing to trivialise a serious subject, it is tempting to wonder what Brian Close would have thought of concussion checks in cricket.
The comedian Eric Morecambe famously said that all he had to do to tell when the cricket season had started was to listen for the sound of Close being hit by the ball.
Throughout his career, the former Yorkshire and England captain took some fearsome blows - often standing in the suicidal short-leg position, where the ball would often rebound off his body, on one occasion straight to a team-mate who caught it in the covers.
As Close lay prone on the ground and concern gathered around him, legend has it that his first words were: “Never mind me, did he catch the bugger?”
Yes, Close would have given short, sharp shrift to any notion that he should be fussed over by medics or, worse still, prevented from appearing in an Ashes Test – a la Australia’s Steve Smith, who was hit on the neck by a brutal ball from Jofra Archer during the Lord’s Test.
Smith, of course, was rightly withdrawn from the ongoing match at Headingley as modern protocols are steadily replacing the old-school approach of Close’s era, but it has been a protracted process to get to this point – hastened, of course, by the tragic death of Australia’s Phillip Hughes.
Close, of course, was one of a kind, perhaps the bravest cricketer who ever lived.
The most famous example was when he stood up to a fearsome barrage from the West Indian pace bowlers in 1976 having been recalled, aged 45, to face the likes of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel et al.
Batting without a helmet, chest or arm protection, Close somehow escaped serious injury – or worse – while taking a number of blows to the body.
If you care to seek out the footage on YouTube, it is X-rated stuff, best viewed with a glass of Scotch close at hand.
Batting without a helmet, chest or arm protection, Close somehow escaped serious injury – or worse – while taking a number of blows to the body. If you care to seek out the footage on YouTube, it is X-rated stuff, best viewed with a glass of Scotch close at hand.Chris Waters on the bravery of Brian Close
One could fill an entire column with tales of Close’s courage, but my favourite example of his no-nonsense attitude came from fellow England captain Michael Vaughan.
After Close died in 2015, aged 84, Vaughan remembered how Close had a novel answer to a technical difficulty with which he was struggling.
“I remember one specific training session when I was struggling with an lbw problem,” said Vaughan. “He said the only way I would learn is to use my bat and not my pad.
“He asked for my bat and gloves. I told him they were right-handed gloves (he was a left-hander) but he did not care and he went into the net at the age of 60 wearing no pads on his legs.
“He said, ‘Bat without pads, son, because that way you learn to hit the ball. If you don’t then you soon end up with a broken knee cap.’”
Vaughan went on: “He would also watch nets and ask, ‘Why are you lads ducking and weaving?’ He would say, ‘Let the ball hit you. It is only a bruise. Bruises disappear but when you are out it is over. You might not bat again for a week’.”
Close had another piece of advice for Vaughan and his colleagues.
Railing against their use of shin pads while fielding at short-leg, the man who famously enjoyed a flutter at the bookies told them: “Don’t bother with a piece of plastic – just shove a few sheets of the Racing Post down your leg.”