Bob Willis, former England cricket captain, dies aged 70

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  • Willis played in 90 Tests between 1971 and 1984
  • Bowler also played for Surrey and Warwickshire

Tony Paley  – The Guardian

Bob Willis, the former England cricket captain, has died aged 70, his family announced on Wednesday.

The pace bowler made 90 Test match appearances for his country and took 325 wickets, placing him fourth in the all-time list of England bowlers. He famously played a key part in the memorable 1981 third Test defeat of Australia at Headingley that was won from a seemingly impossible position, taking a career-best 8-43. He enjoyed a long career in broadcasting after his retirement in 1984, first for the BBC and then latterly on Sky.

Willis was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago. In their statement his family said: “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.

“Bob is survived by his wife Lauren, daughter Katie, brother David and sister Ann. The Willis family has asked for privacy at this time to mourn the passing of a wonderful man and requests that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to Prostate Cancer UK.”

The ECB led the tributes to the hugely popular player. “We are deeply saddened to say farewell to Bob Willis, a legend of English cricket, at the age of 70,” the statement read. “Bob spearheaded the England bowling attack for more than a decade and took 325 Test wickets. He will always be remembered for his outstanding cricket career, in particular the dramatic Headingley Test victory.

“In later years as a broadcaster Bob was a perceptive and respected voice at the microphone. We are forever thankful for everything he has done for the game. Everyone at the ECB sends sincere condolences to his family. Cricket has lost a dear friend.”

Fellow England captain David Gower, who worked closely with Willis during his time in the broadcast studios, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I toured with him as a captain and I took over the captaincy from him and then had him as what was called in those days as an assistant manager. He was a very loyal friend and a loyal supporter.

“Without going into too much unseemly detail, it was an era where you were allowed to have more fun than you are possibly today. Various tours Down Under were colourful, let’s put it that way.”

An emotional Paul Allott, another teammate and former broadcasting colleague, described Willis as a “sweet, sweet guy” and one of his closest friends. He told Sky Sports News: “I was there when Bob passed away with Lauren, his wife, and his daughter in Wimbledon this afternoon.

“It was a peaceful passing but it was obviously a hugely emotional moment. We’ve known each other for more than 40 years. We played together. He was my first vice-captain for England and he took me under his wing in India.”

His former county Surrey posted on Twitter: “All at Surrey County Cricket Club are devastated to learn of the passing of former Surrey and England bowler Bob Willis. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Willis began at Surrey where he spent the first two years of his county cricket career before representing Warwickshire for 12 years, ending with a total of 899 wickets from 308 first-class matches at an average of 24.99. He made his international debut aged 21 in the 1971 Ashes series. Remarkably one of this country’s finest pace bowlers was troubled with injuries early in his career and was forced to have surgery on both knees in 1975, before playing another nine years at the top level.

The ex-England opener Michael Carberry tweeted: “Very sad to hear the passing of Bob Willis. Had the pleasure of working with him on SkyCricket. Great man and knowledge of the game as well as a great. #ripbobwillis.”

Actor and friend Stephen Fry highlighted Willis’s non-sporting interests. He tweeted: “Oh no, not Bob Willis … what joy he gave, and what a marvellous man. That 8 for 43. Used to lunch with him occasionally to talk cricket, Wagner and Bob Dylan, his three great passions.”

 

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