We’re not really old enough to know Brian Close the cricketer, but we know the legend. He was the youngest man to play for England and he will also be remembered as the bravest.
In light of what’s happened to other cricketers since Close, it isn’t really right to glorify his lack of regard for his own physical wellbeing. That doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate to marvel at it though.
Quite how a man trains himself not to flinch is beyond us. To flinch in the face of impending physical pain is a basic impulse, but Close played his cricket without this entirely natural reaction. Whether batting or fielding at short leg, he simply took the impact.
The third evening of the Old Trafford Test of 1976 is for what he will always be remembered. He was 45 years old and the West Indies bowling was as quick, brutal and unforgiving as has ever been seen. With no law at the time preventing it, every ball was a bouncer. A fair proportion of them hit him.
When you see the footage, what’s striking – other than his age and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a helmet – is that quite often he simply didn’t bother with evasive action. The relentlessly short-pitched bowling meant that in an hour of cricket, he scored just one run. But he wasn’t dismissed.
“How can the ball hurt you?” he is supposed to have once said. “It’s only on you for a second.”
This steadfast refusal to accept a clear and obvious fact would sound even more ridiculous if the man hadn’t also spent 20-odd years walking the talk.