At the start of October I was fortunate enough to travel with Brian Close and his wife, Vivien, to America for his induction into the ‘Cricket Hall of Fame’. It was quite an experience!
Joining us for the trip was Benj Moorehead, a journalist with ‘The Wisden Cricketer’ magazine. Indeed, the journey was only made possible thanks to TWC’s funding of the flights. They thought it would make a good story for their next issue. They were right.
Those of you who know Brian will be aware of his prodigious cigarette habit. Quite how he survived the flight to Boston without one I shall never know! There was a brief hairy moment when Viv had to stop him lighting-up in the middle of Heathrow but apart from that the journey was uneventful.
We were met at the other end by Patrick Hamilton and Curtis Clarke from the ‘Hall of Fame’. It wasn’t difficult to spot them. Patrick was wearing a cricket sweater! They drove us through the night and the pouring rain to Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut, which was to be our base during the stay.
Curtis had warned us when we arrived at the hotel that the ‘in house’ breakfast was quite expensive. He promised to take us somewhere “much better”. We drove out of the city on a beautiful Saturday morning and eventually came to an enormous shopping mall. I could tell that Brian and Viv were slightly perplexed. However, their concern soon turned to sheer gluttony as they spotted the ‘All You Can Eat Breakfast – $5’ sign outside the ‘Hometown Buffet’. Viv managed to cover things in maple syrup that really should NEVER be covered in maple syrup. Her plate was an utterly horrrific sight!
Full to bursting we made our way to the outskirts of Hartford to the ‘Hall of Fame’ builiding itself. Situated above the ‘Dunns River Jamaican Restaurant’ the collection of cricket memorabilia and framed inductee certificates is truly awesome. The local West Indian community deserves an enormous amount of credit for furthering the cause of this noble sport. As soon as we walked in one old gentleman bowed before Brian. The great man was in his element, pointing at pictures of former adversaries with his walking stick and entertaining everyone with a seemingly endless supply of stories from his amazing career.
That evening saw the induction dinner itself at the Hilton Hotel. His fellow international inductee was Ajit Wadekar, the ex-Indian captain. The standing ovation Closey received from the assembled guests was genuinely moving. He’s not a young man anymore (even though he can still beat us all at golf!) and I think they appreciated that it had been quite an undertaking for him to travel all that way. The next time you see him at Headingley ask to have a look at his incredible ‘Hall of Fame’ ring. I don’t think he’ll ever take it off! One of my favourite moments of the trip occurred after the dinner. We were in the hotel lobby when a very pretty young girl, who had obviously spotted his ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ badge in the shape of the letter Y, asked “Excuse me sir. Is that from Yale?”, “No love, Yorkshire.” came the reply!
We were lucky enough to be joined by the author Joseph O’Neill for the event. His recent novel, ‘Netherland’, is set amongst the ex-pat cricket devotees of New York. It’s currently scheduled to be made into a film, directed by Sam Mendes. Brian is still rather hoping that he’ll win a starring role! Joe deserves a lot of credit for making the visit a reality as it was his initial approach to YCCC that first made us aware of the fact that the ‘Hall of Fame’ committee were considering Brian for induction.
The following day (after another monstrous breakfast!) Mike Chambers, the ‘Hall of Fame’ Director, drove us to Keney Park to watch the match between North Connecticut and South Connecticut. Once again Closey was the centre of attention. The locals plied him and Viv with rum and jerk chicken to a soundtrack of phenomenally loud reggae music. The cricket itself seemed to be of secondary importance. The locals call that particular ground ‘Lord’s’ although we struggled to find any resemblance between it and the home of the MCC. The Hartford Lord’s was far more entertaining!
That evening was spent at a dinner held in honour of both Brian and Mr. Wadekar at a local Indian restaurant. Sitting with 2 ex-Test skippers in the function room of a curry house in America is not something I ever envisaged having the chance to do. I don’t think the speech I was suddenly called-upon to make on Brian’s behalf made a great deal of sense but I hope I managed to convey at least a small percentage of the gratitude we all felt at the way we’d been treated.
We all slept-in on the Monday morning……glued to the TV as Europe beat the USA in the Ryder Cup. It was a fantastic end to an amazing few days!
As we left Hartford on the way back to Boston airport we stopped to get some ‘gas’. The attendant actually recognised Brian and exclaimed “Mr. Close! Strong!!”. That just about somes him up. Viv hadn’t quite understood why they were so keen to see him, or indeed how his sporting achievements could still have any currency, especially in America. I hope in that moment it became clear.