Bob Willis ( 1949 – 2019)
Bob Willis, England Cricket Legend sadly passed away yesterday at the age of seventy, the former England captain has been hailed as a “phenomenal” cricketer and perhaps one of the countries all time fast bowlers. He took 325 wickets in just 90 Tests from 1971 until 1984, claiming a career-best of 8 wickets for 43 runs to help England to a famous win against Australia at Headingley in the 1981 Ashes Test Match.
Willis, captained his country in 18 Test Matches and 21 ODI before his retirement from all cricket in 1984. He subsequently worked as a summariser on BBC TV before joining Sky Sports as a commentator in 1991. He continued to work for Sky Sports and was part of their coverage of this summer’s Ashes series.
David Gower, who succeeded Willis as England captain, said his former team-mate and commentary colleague had a “burning, bright passion for the game. I still have that image in my head of him running off the ground at Headingley. He was a man on a mission, the passion and desire to win that game was too much for the Australians.”
Headingley was a brilliant moment, the irony was they tried to drop him before that Test match, so that was his way of making a point and he was very good at doing that during his career,” David Gower told BBC Radio 5 live.
He was a huge Bob Dylan fan and he even changed his name to Robert George Dylan Willis by deed poll, which tells its own story. Willis was such a fan that could tell you any Bob Dylan lyric from any song. A very bright man and excellent company he was also an great wine connoisseur.
Bob Willis represented Surrey Cricket Club for the first two years of his professional career before spending twelve years at Warwickshire Cricket Club, finishing with 899 wickets from 308 first-class matches at an average of 24.99.
Despite needing surgery on both knees in 1975 he became one of the finest fast bowlers of his generation, he played for a further nine years and claiming his 325 Test wickets at an impressive average of 25.20. At the time of Willis’ retirement only Australia fast bowler Dennis Lillee had taken more Test wickets. Only James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Sir Ian Botham have gone on to surpass his England bowling tally.
Willis moved into commentary soon after his playing career ended and worked alongside former team-mates Sir Ian Botham and David Gower. After moving away from doing live commentary and summariser duties in 2006, Willis continued to work as a pundit on Sky Sports programmes such as The Debate and The Verdict. He was frequently firm in his criticism of current England players, which was seen by some as being unfair.
One thing is for sure, he was hugely admired all around the world and will be sadly missed by not just the cricketing world, but the world of sport. A true legend in the game that everybody knew and that inspired a generation of cricketers and hearing those famous words from Headingley “Here comes Willis steaming in from the Kirkstall Lane End.”