It’s official. Brian Close was inducted last Saturday into the Cricket Hall of Fame. Not the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame but that other one in Hartford, Connecticut. The USA.
Haven’t heard of it? Well, it’s the first of its kind, set up in 1981 by the West Indian community that make up around 80% of the population of Hartford, a small city two hours west of Boston that claims to be the insurance capital of the world.
Each year two international players are somehow persuaded (sponsorship helps) to make the trip for their induction ceremony. The first inductees were Alf Valentine, Lance Gibbs and Wes Hall since when the list has included the three Ws (Worrell, Weekes, Walcott), Sobers, Greg Chappell, Lloyd, Holding, Gavaskar, Richards, Farokh Engineer and Tony Greig.
The Hall of Fame itself is located unexpectedly above a Jamaican restaurant. Inside is an intimate wall-to-wall collection of memorabilia and photos. It is owned by the Sportsmen’s Athletic Club, one of eight in Connecticut made up largely of West Indians whose history goes back to the 1940s when the first flock came over to work on the tobacco fields. Cricket binds this community together and seals their identity within America’s melting pot.
As mentioned in a recent blog, I accompanied Close, now 79, to cover the story for the next issue of The Wisden Cricketer. Like a few of us who had come along, Close might have wondered what on earth he was doing there.
But once he had seen the reaction of the Hartford locals, who rave about his deeds of 1963 (taking on Hall and Griffith at Lord’s) and 1976 (Holding, Roberts and Daniel at Old Trafford) and longed to hear his stories, Close took to the occasion like a Yorkshireman to a cup of tea. There may be a few England cricketers who stand above Close in the pecking order, but few can have the resonance he has among West Indians. His smoker’s laugh greeted each moment of a bizarre three days – as long as there was a fag or three along the way. “That were bloody fantastic,” he told me at the end.
Close was given a ring (above) to commemorate his induction. And just like Holding, he plans to keep it on.
Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer