Cricket pays tribute to ‘dear friend’ Bob Willis after his death aged 70

Cricket lost “a dear friend” on Wednesday following the death of former England captain Bob Willis.

The pace bowler, who played 90 Tests for England and became a popular figure in broadcasting following his retirement in 1984, was 70.

It is understood Willis, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, had begun to deteriorate in health over the last two months, with a recent scan revealing the cancer had advanced.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement: “The ECB is deeply saddened to say farewell to Bob Willis, a legend of English cricket, at the age of 70.

“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 his eight for 43 in the dramatic Headingley Test victory over Australia in 1981.

“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.

Bob Willis lead England to a remarkable win over Australia in the 1981 Ashes at Headingley
Bob Willis lead England to a remarkable win over Australia in the 1981 Ashes at Headingley

“Everyone at the ECB sends sincere condolences to his family. Cricket has lost a dear friend.”

Willis remains England’s fourth highest wicket-taker of all time and his most famous moment as a player came in that remarkable third Ashes Test at Headingley.

Ian Botham’s innings of 149 had helped set Australia a target of just 130 to win when Willis produced the performance of his life to secure an improbable 18-run victory.

It is understood Botham went to see his former team-mate earlier this week, with fellow former England players John Lever, David Brown and Paul Allott visiting on Wednesday.

Allott told Sky Sports News: “I was there when Bob passed away with Lauren his wife and daughter in Wimbledon this afternoon.

Great cricketer .. even better bloke RIP Bob

— Nasser Hussain (@nassercricket) December 4, 2019

“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.

“Beneath that quite stern exterior that he portrayed on Sky Sports there was a heart of gold.

“He was an extremely kind and gentle individual and we became the very best of friends.

PA Graphic
PA Graphic

“Not only did we play together but we worked in the commentary box together where I probably had the best part of 20 to 25 years with him. We had an absolutely wonderful time. Bob was such a sweet, sweet guy.”

Former England batsman David Gower 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.”

Ex-England fast bowler Darren Gough said on TalkSport: “As a player he had a big heart, he’d run in, nearly 6ft 6ins, and hit the pitch hard. At his peak was one of the best three bowlers in the world.

Willis is England's fourth-highest Test wicket-taker
Willis is England's fourth-highest Test wicket-taker

“He was hugely admired all around the world. Everybody knew who he was.”

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.

“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.”