Brian Close recalls some real Windies bruisers
By Tony Lawrence, Reuters cricket correspondent
April 8, 2004
LONDON, England (Reuters) - Mark Butcher relished watching England's bowlers inflict a string of bruises on Brian Lara and company in the death throes of the third Test in Bridgetown.
While captain Michael Vaughan was talking diplomatically of two well-matched sides during his victory speech, and while the media mused over the 36-year drought since England's last Caribbean series win, Butcher, smiling widely, called it as he saw it.
``It's been nice seeing a few West Indies lads nursing bruises,'' the England batsman said. ``Over the years, it's been us taking them.
``It's great that we have got some bowlers who can really dish it out.''
The straight-talking Butcher was speaking for several generations of England cricketers and their supporters.
Winning in Barbados last week, to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the four-match series, was magical for England, but what mattered almost as much was giving their erstwhile tormentors a small taste of their own medicine, via the pace bowling of Steve Harmison and Simon Jones in particular.
It was, of course, only a small taste, as Brian Close confirms.
Close, now 73, was the subject of one of the most fearsome fast-bowling barrages ever seen on a cricket field.
The Yorkshireman, recalled to the England Test side in 1976 at the age of 45, marched out with John Edrich one Saturday evening in July at Old Trafford -- in the days before batsmen hid behind helmets and body protection -- to be peppered by West Indian bouncers for a full 80 minutes.
``Our fellows got carried away,'' captain Clive Lloyd was to say afterwards.
Close returned to the pavilion at the close of play just about in one piece, with a single run to his name and dozens of blood-red bruises all over his chest and rib cage.
The England physio suggested an immediate trip to hospital for X-rays. Close opted instead for a Scotch and a night out.
'A BIT SHARPISH'
``They were a bit sharpish,'' Close told me this week with a laugh of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel.
``It was a nasty wicket as well, with the ball lifting off a good length.
``You had to get behind the ball, then if it did something unusual you could move your head out of the line and drop your hands and bat out of the way. But you couldn't get your body clear,'' he says from his west Yorkshire home.
``It was difficult but I got hit more often by Wes Hall at Lord's in 1963 (the match when Hall broke Colin Cowdrey's arm).
``You had a job to do and you just had to take it.''
Those, of course, as Close recalls, were legendary West Indies sides. If it was hostile bowling, he says, ``it wasn't personal.''
He's far from convinced by the current West Indies crop of bowling and batting talent, however.
``They're bloody poor compared to what they used to be,'' he says. ``There's not much bowling and Lara's moving all over the place at the crease, he seems to have his wires crossed.
``Let's hope he doesn't get them uncrossed for the last Test. He's been a great batsman but the responsibility of the captaincy has not done him any good.''
Harmison and Jones had not yet reached their second birthdays when Close played in that Old Trafford Test, the 22nd and last of his career.
They will doubtless have heard the stories, even if they have not seen the footage.
Another win -- and no side, not even Australia, has ever whitewashed the West Indies in the Caribbean -- would be more than welcome in the Close household.
A few more bruises, just to even things up a shade, would not go amiss either.