Brian Close is hit by a bouncer from Mike Holding in the 1976 Old Trafford Test © Getty Images
Brian Close is hit by a bouncer from Mike Holding in the 1976 Old Trafford Test © Getty Images

Old Trafford witnessed one of the most hostile displays of fast bowling on July 10, 1976. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when two ageing batsmen resisted three fearsome fast bowlers despite being bruised and battered for over an hour.

There have been snarling fast bowlers throughout the course of history, always eager to have a go at defenseless batsmen. To combat them, there have always been defiant batsmen, willing to take the blow on the body rather than give their wicket away.

Seldom, though, have they turned up in the form of men of 45 and 39 working as a pair. It was in 1976 —during the infamous ‘grovel’ series — that Brian Close and John Edrich displayed a combined act of immense courage to hold the furious West Indian fast bowlers at bay.

After Tony Greig’s controversial statement, the West Indians came at the Englishmen all guns blazing. The first Test at Trent Bridge ended in a draw with England 156 for two chasing 339. And when stumps were called in the second Test at Lord’s, West Indies were 241 for 6 chasing 323. England had been the better side in the Lord’s Test and were extremely confident going to the third Test at Old Trafford.

Day One: Greenidge versus Selvey

Day One was a feast for the eyes. As the debutant Mike Selvey dented the West Indian line-up with the first spell of his Test career, Gordon Greenidge, still young in international cricket, carved out an innings of defiance and later, dominance, to bring West Indies back in business.

Injuries to John Snow and Chris Old had allowed Selvey to gain a Test cap. He made the best of it, taking out Roy Fredericks (caught hooking), Viv Richards (bowled), and Alvin Kallicharran (played-on) in an inspired first spell. Mike Hendrick had Clive Lloyd caught at short-leg, and West Indies found themselves reeling at 26 for 4.

Then Greenidge took things in his own hands. He mistimed a hook off Bob Woolmer that landed midway between Derek Underwood at long-leg and a dashing Alan Knott. Just after the hook eluded both, Greenidge hit 3 successive fours. The pressure was gone, and West Indies were off.

Collis King, the debutant, curbed his natural instinct and scored a 106-ball 32, happy to play a second fiddle to Greenidge. The Barbadian opener dominated the 121-minute partnership of 111, and even after King’s departure, he continued dominating the bowling.

Selvey finished with figures of 4 for 41 (they would remain his career-best) while Underwood picked up 3 for 55 as West Indies were eventually bowled out for 211. Greenidge scored 134 of these runs in 198 balls with 18 fours before he was ninth out for 193; other than King the only other person to reach double-figures was Wayne Daniel (10).

Greenidge had scored 63.5% of West Indies’ team total — at that point the second-highest in history after Charles Bannerman’s 67.3% in the very first Test.

West Indies struck back, removing England’s Close and an aggressive David Steele before stumps. England finished Day One at 37 for 2 with Edrich on 6 and Pat Pocock on 1.

Day Two: Holding demolishes before Greenidge encore

England were blown away by Michael Holding the next morning. They had ambled to 46 for 2 before Holding shot them out with 5 for 9 in 7.5 overs. The last 8 wickets fell for 25 in just over an hour, and England were bowled out for 71 in 32.5 overs. Steele’s 20 was the only score in double-figures.

Holding eventually finished with 5 for 17; he was supported by Andy Roberts (3 for 22) and Wayne Daniel (2 for 13).

The rest of the day saw Greenidge back in action. He added 116 in 98 minutes with Fredericks (50) and West Indies eventually finished the day at 163 for 1, 303 runs ahead and with virtually the match in their pocket. Greenidge was on 71 looking set for his second hundred of the match while Richards, recovering from his illness, looked sound on 28 after failing in the first innings.

Day Three: leather-hunt for England

To cut things short, Greenidge scored his second hundred of the Test (a 155-ball 116) and Richards top-scored with a 261-ball 135. Greenidge became the first player to score twin tons at Old Trafford (Steve Waugh is the only other batsmen to do so till date). Lloyd also joined in the fun, scoring 43, and West Indies eventually declared at 411 for 5, setting England an impossible target of 552. They still had 75 minutes to bat out on the day.

Sixty-five minutes of terror

“I sat, stunned and exhilarated, in the top deck of the Old Trafford pavilion as Edrich and Brian Close faced the fearsome West Indian artillery: Roberts, Holding and Daniel inflicting an apocalypse that required only three horsemen, for who remembers that a spinner, Albert Padmore, played in that game?” wrote Paul Edwards.

What followed was too brutal for words. The bowlers were merciless, and did not hesitate to bounce, often going for the heads of the batsmen. All three were frighteningly fast and went all guns blazing at the two aging men. The batsmen were without helmets, and took umpteen blows on their bodies, but did not throw their wickets away.

The attack was ruthless and savage. Lloyd did not restrain his bowlers at all. If anything, he said after the match: “Our fellows got carried away. They knew they had only eighty [sic] minutes that night to make an impression and they went flat out, sacrificing accuracy for speed. They knew afterwards they had bowled badly.”

To quote Terry Bindle in The Glasgow Herald, “Wayne Daniel bowled at least two deliveries an over short of a length, Holding even more — his shorter deliveries are the more venomous because they are dug in without apparent effort, more difficult for the batsmen to identify quickly.”

Bill Alley was lenient, but in the end had no option but to warn Holding for intimidation after he did seem to stop bowling bouncers. Much to his surprise he was confronted by Close. The following conversation ensued when Close went to Alley’s end:

“What the hell did you have to do that for?” asked an agitated Close.

“He’s bowling too many bouncers.” Came Alley’s confused response.

“Don’t you realise the bloody bouncers aren’t hitting us? It’s the ones halfway down that are the problem.”

The bowlers often overstepped (there were 9 no-balls in 17 overs in the day’s play), perhaps out of eagerness, but the batsmen did not flinch. Close later said: “We turned up at Manchester to what was probably the worst wicket Test cricket has ever been played on. The ball just went through the top. Facing Andy Roberts and Michael Holding under those conditions was a handful but we had a job to do and the job comes first … The faster the West Indians bowled the worse it got because the balls broke through the surface of the wicket. They exploded and flew at you.”

Close then received a couple of serious blows: one rammed into his ribs and the other hit him below on his abdomen. Bindle said: “On each occasion Close’s knees momentarily gave way. His face contorted with pure agony before he regained his composure and went on chewing away with feigned indifference.” These were followed by one that missed his balding head by a whisker.

Tell-tales of the blows that Brian Close batting without any protective gear for his head or 45-year-old body took from the fearsome West Indian pace attack while batting with exemplary courage. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Brian Close’s 45-year-old body after those 65 minutes of terror from the unbridled West Indian fast bowlers. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.

Edrich (to quote Ian Botham, ‘a mere pup at 39’ compared to the 45-year old Close) had his own share of blows. Both men were renowned for pluck, and both stuck to their tasks remarkably well. Holding bowled 7 overs — all maidens, for not many deliveries were pitched up — and all the batsmen could do were to duck and swerve and to take the blows on their bodies.

The most astonishing bit was the fact that the batsmen did not counterattack and throw it away. They hung around grimly, resisting the urge to hook, cut, or pull: they knew they could not afford to take risks and give it away; they knew they had to take the blows, and they braved them.

Wisden wrote of the session (do note the economy of words): “The period before the close of the third day brought disquieting cricket as Edrich and Close grimly defended their wickets and themselves against fast bowling, which was frequently too wild and too hostile to be acceptable.”

Vic Marks went on to classify the barrage with an ‘X-certificate’.

Neil Sequires wrote that it ‘bordered on the insane’.

Botham slammed it as “one of the most frightening assaults ever launched on a cricket field” that “shamed the game”.

Eventually the ruthlessness came to an end as the umpires called stumps. West Indies had bowled only 14 overs in the allotted 75 minutes and England had managed to score 21 without loss off them. This had included 10 extras.

Greig was understandably livid after the day’s play: “I wasn’t happy with the number of short deliveries and neither were my batsmen when they came in.” However, he admitted: “We gave them the bombardment treatment after Hall and Griffith retired. Now it is their turn and unfortunately most of our fast bowlers are injured. Not so long ago they were struggling against fast bowlers in Australia — now they are making the most of their chance to hand out a bit.”

He was all in praise for the duo, though: “I thought Close and Edrich were magnificent. I don’t know of many opening partnerships in the world who would have done what they did. There might be one or two players who would have hooked a couple and got out, but they were asked to stay there and they did a great job.”

Close and Edrich walked off with their heads held high. On their way back Edrich suddenly broke into laughter. A livid Close asked the reason.

“I’ve just looked at the scorecard. You’ve been out there for 70 [sic] minutes and had been clobbered everywhere. Do you know how many runs you’ve scored in that time?”

Close confessed he did not.

“One. I hope it was worth the pain.” Responded a laughing Edrich.

Characters like these do not exist anymore. Heavy bats and restrictions on fast bowlers have taken the gladiators out of the sport.

What followed?

  England survived a rain-affected Day Four. They finished at 125 for 9. They were bowled out for 126 the next morning losing the Test by 425 runs. Roberts was the wrecker-in-chief this time with 6 for 37.

  Edrich (24 in 100 balls) and Close (20 in 108 balls) were the top scorers of the innings, and put up a brave 140-minute 54 for the first wicket. Edrich finished the series with 145 runs at 48.33 and Close with 166 at 33.20; they occupied second and third positions in the series batting charts respectively after Dennis Amiss. None of them, however, played a Test again after Old Trafford.

– England went on to lose by 55 runs at Headingley and by 231 runs at The Oval. They were ‘grovelled’ 0-3 themselves all right.

Brief scores:

West Indies 211 (Gordon Greenidge 134; Mike Selvey 4 for 41) and 411 for 5 decl. (Viv Richards 135, Gordon Greenidge 101, Roy Fredericks 50, Clive Lloyd 43) beat England 71 (Michael Holding 5 for 17) and 126 (Andy Roberts 6 for 37) by 425 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)