Few people can claim to have had as positive an impact on the fortunes of Somerset County Cricket Club than Dennis Brian Close. The Yorkshireman joined the cider county in 1971 and by the time he departed after the 1977 season he had played a major part in changing the culture in a club that was neither fashionable nor successful when he joined.
Close was a fine cricketer and one good enough to play for England at the tender age of 18 years old – the youngest ever to represent his country in Test cricket – and would play 22 Tests including eight as captain. He was also a fine leader of men and one that always carried a strong opinion and was never afraid to share his views no matter how controversial they were or to whom he was speaking.
Close was a winner. He was named Yorkshire captain in 1963 and led the white rose county to four County Championship wins – including three on the spin from 1966 to 1968 – and hit 39 centuries for his beloved home county with a highest score of 198. He was named one of the five cricketers of the year by Wisden in 1964.
In 1969 Close suffered from a calf injury playing only 18 championship matches, but he did lead Yorkshire to a second Gillette Cup win (the first being in 1965). He missed most of the 1970 season through injury and was embroiled in a heated exchange of words with Lancashire President Lionel Lister after a John Player 40-over game at Old Trafford which Yorkshire lost handing the title to their red rose rivals. He was instructed to apologise which he duly did. This one of many controversies involving Close in his time at Headingley. Close was also outspoken of his dislike of both forms of limited overs cricket and was deemed not supportive of the clubs younger players by the Board. He was publicly and rather discourteously sacked by Yorkshire at the end of 1970.
Hearing of Close’s availability Bill Andrews of Somerset approached the Yorkshireman with a view to him moving to the West Country. He sent three letters and followed them up with three phone calls before they managed to speak. There was nervousness on both sides. The Somerset committee were generally happy ambling on under little pressure from the club’s supporters who had never seen any silverware lifted in the county’s long history and rarely tasted the atmosphere of big cup matches (bar a defeat in the Gillette Cup Final in 1967). There was little enthusiasm at the thought of this maverick Yorkshireman joining the ranks with much to say and no fear of doing so.
But he joined up at Taunton and, under the captaincy of Brian Langford, hit five centuries in 1971 – including one back “home” at Headingley – and six 50s finishing with an average of 44.77.
This was a new dawn for Somerset with a largely new team. Barbadian Hallam Moseley and Australian Kerry O’Keefe were also new in 1971 after veteran Tom Cartwright and keeper Derek Taylor had joined in 1970. These players had all breathed new life into the sleepy county who finished 7th in the Championship and 5th in the John Player League.
In 1972 Close was made captain and struck three more centuries in that season and three more in 1973. He had brought a doggedness to the team, some Yorkshire grit if you like, and was having a positive effect on the club’s youngsters, most notably Brian Rose, Peter Denning and Dennis Breakwell.
It was 1974 that things moved on for Somerset. There were three signings – Yeovil’s own Ian Botham, young Antiguan Viv Richards and Peter Roebuck. All would have fine careers for Somerset and play a part in the glories that followed. The club finished 2nd in the John Player and would repeat the feat in 1976 when they lost the title by a single run. Botham has often hinted that it was Close who influenced him to join Somerset.
Close publicly hated one day cricket but he mastered it and helped those playing under him to adapt to. But still that first trophy proved elusive. After the 1977 season, with his own form dropping dramatically, Brian Close left Somerset handing the captaincy reins to Brian Rose who would lead the cider county to five one day wins in five seasons. Close hit 13 centuries for Somerset and transformed the club into an ambitious outfit with vision and a fine playing squad that played ‘hard’ cricket with a strong will to win.
After Somerset he became chairman of Yorkshire’s cricket subcommittee and attracted further controversy as he had many public run-ins with the then Yorkshire captain, Geoffrey Boycott. However, he continued to serve Yorkshire cricket well into his seventies.
He was considered one of the bravest cricketers ever to play the game. In an era before padding and helmets Close would stand at silly point totally unprotected and unperturbed by the possible dangers whilst directing instructions to his team. And who can forget his recall to the England Test team in 1976 aged 45 to face the brilliant yet hostile West Indies attack? England needed a warrior and Close was their man. The vision of Close chesting away short deliveries from Holding, Roberts and Daniel will live ling into the memory.
Brian Close died on Sunday 13th September at the age of 84. Ian Botham described Close as “the hardest man I have ever met”. Following his death legendary umpire Dickie Bird called him “one of the all-time greats for Yorkshire and England” and current Yorkshire and England batsman Joe Root said of Close: “His fearless approach and bravery will always be remembered.”
He leaves a legacy throughout the game of cricket and his beloved home county Yorkshire, but particularly in his adopted county of Somerset who will have a long lasting debt of gratitude to Brian Close.