Brian Close endured his greatest moment in 1976. Previously, the (white South African) England captain Tony Greig had spoken of making the West Indies’ team “grovel”. But the West Indies bowlers were very fast, and their batsmen majestic. They didn’t grovel. On the contrary, it was England who had to recall the 45-year-old Yorkshireman to show the youngsters how to be a man and take a battering. Michael Holding, the fastest West Indian, bowled at Close’s unprotected body, and hit him regularly. Close scarcely flinched. Yet he was subsequently dropped, because – Close claimed – he had shown why he should have been captain (not Greig).
I didn’t see the innings. But growing up in London in the 80s I was fanatical about cricket. In this era, the West Indies were awesome. They had all the fastest bowlers, and fast bowlers only, and the most graceful and powerful batsmen, and only such. They humiliated England repeatedly: Our batsmen jumped around the crease in terror – much to the amusement of English West Indian spectators; their batsmen joyously flayed our heroes beyond the boundary – to the same wildly celebrating West Indian spectators. The baying drove Norman Tebbit to pronounce his “immigration cricket test”, which effectively challenged English West Indians to support England if they wanted to live here. What he wanted to say was, “we won’t let you watch anymore if you keep on laughing at us”. If only the likes of Brian Close had still been around… but my heroes were the West Indians.