Bob Willis: Former England cricket captain dies aged 70

Written by on 05/12/2019

Former England captain and Sky Cricket expert Bob Willis has died at the age of 70 from prostate cancer.

The fast-bowler was a mainstay of the England team for more than a decade, playing in 90 Tests and 64 one-day internationals after his debut in 1971, and went on to enjoy a long career in broadcasting after his retirement in 1984.

Willis finished his Test career with 325 wickets, which to this day puts him fourth on the all-time list of England wicket-takers behind James Anderson, Ian Botham and Stuart Broad.

He played a key part in what became known as “Botham’s Ashes” when his hostile bowling saw him take 8-43 in the memorable third Test at Headingley that was won from a seemingly-impossible position.

Botham would later describe his teammate as a “tremendous trier, a great team man and an inspiration – the only world-class fast bowler in my time as an England player”.

Willis’ family said in a statement: “We are heartbroken to lose our beloved Bob, who was an incredible husband, father, brother and grandfather. He made a huge impact on everybody he knew and we will miss him terribly.”

The former international cricketer is survived by his wife Lauren, daughter Katie, brother David and sister Ann.

The Willis family has asked for donations to be made to Prostate Cancer UK.

‘Many a glass will be raised in his name’: Sky’s sports editor Nick Powell remembers the colourful career of Bob Willis

Bob Willis nearly didn’t play in his greatest triumph – the Headingley Ashes test of 1981 when he and Ian Botham produced cricket’s most improbable comeback.

Lacking form and rhythm, the 6’6″ fast bowler only just shook off knee trouble and illness in time to play.

So far behind were England in the match, bookmakers were offering 500-1 about their chances.

Even after Ian Botham’s heroic, swashbuckling, nothing-to-lose, devil-may-care 149 not out, Australia only needed 130 in their second innings for victory.

Enter Willis, tousled hair flopping, off his long run-up.

His captain Mike Brearley believes the bowler’s international career might have ended that day, had he not delivered the second half of Botham’s miracle.

He had been listening to hypnotism tapes beforehand, and never seemed to leave that zone. Australian batsmen came and went. Willis took eight wickets. England won.

His knees – both previously operated on – carried him through three more years and the England captaincy – a rare distinction for an out-and-out fast bowler.

Willis finished his Test career with 325 wickets, which puts him fourth on England’s all-time list behind James Anderson, Ian Botham and Stuart Broad – particularly notable given that current players like Anderson and Broad play many more matches.

In 1985, the year after his retirement, he began a TV career that was still in full swing this summer, first as a commentator and latterly as a studio pundit, delivering trenchant views with scrupulous fairness.

No one – no matter what his stature or reputation – was safe from Willis’ barbed tongue.

And no one was happier than Willis if the object of his latest diatribe was able to turn his form around in his next match – as he had done in 1981.

To those of us at Sky he was outstandingly kind and helpful, taking the trouble to remember your name and to check you were happy with his contributions.

The shock of his passing is all the greater, given that it barely more than two months since he was arriving daily at his desk here, prompt as usual and eager to join in preparing for his broadcasts analysing the drawn Ashes series against Australia.

There was more to him than cricket and TV. He was such a keen Bob Dylan fan that he added Dylan to his name by deed poll.

And he had a third share in a wine label launched with Ian Botham and Australian wine expert Geoff Merrill.

Many a glass will be raised in Willis’ name around the cricketing world.

(c) Sky News 2019: Bob Willis: Former England cricket captain dies aged 70


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