BBC4's screening of Fire In Babylon once again offered the chance to see Brian Close batting for England against the West Indies in 1976. He was 45 years old. Never has an innings of 20 been as brave. And for all Close's courage, there was great humour too: his Yorkshire intransigence was passing into legend. Soon afterwards, Eric Morecambe came up with his famous joke: 'you know the cricket season has arrived when you hear the sound of leather on Brian Close'.
By coincidence, Close is the subject of an entertaining interview in the new Cricketer, in which the great sweep of his career is again worth a moment's thought - England's youngest player, and almost its oldest too. Certainly no-one since, or ever again, will represent the country at 45. The piece finds Closey in vintage form. Asked about the self-inflicted danger of his fielding at short leg, he says: 'The only places I could get hit was my shoulders, below the knees or my head...' Today's bowlers? 'They bowl a few at 90mph and think they're fast'; Nutritionists and analysts? 'I'd sack 'em'; Best advice given by a coach: 'We never had a bloody coach'.
Magnificent. It brought to mind a show I once attended with my dad called 'The King And I', a winter theatre tour by Ian Botham and Viv Richards, compered by David English. It was a riot. Botham told a brilliant shaggy dog story about Close from his early years at Somerset, when Close was the grizzled, autodidact skipper.
Somerset took the field, and in need of a wicket just before lunch, Close bought himself on to bowl. The batsman knocked up a dolly of a catch, which a youthful Brian Rose somehow contrived to spill. 'Bloody hell Rosie,' yelled Close. 'I could have caught that one in the cheeks of my arse...'
The reprieved batter stayed in for the rest of the day. At tea, Close had changed into his plimsolls, but, enraged by Botham's lack of a breakthrough with the ball, decided to bowl the last over of the day himself.
By now Botham had the theatre in silence, everyone wondering where the story was headed. Close ran in but as he hit his delivery stride the tread on his plimsolls gave out. He sprawled head-first down the wicket just as the batsman got a leading edge. The ball lobbed gently towards the prone Yorkshire legend and landed in the small of his back. Close quickly trapped it with his hand and claimed the catch.
'There you go Rosie,' he shouted triumphantly. 'Told you...'
Closey is 81 now, the iniquity of the years etched deep into his face. The same issue of The Cricketer has a tribute to King Viv, who is 60 soon. Time passes too quickly. What men they were, and are.
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