Bob Willis, the former England captain and fast bowler who will be forever synonymous with England’s 1981 Ashes victory, has died at the age of 70 after a short battle with thyroid cancer.
Willis claimed 325 wickets in a 90-Test career that began on the Ashes tour in 1970-71, when he was called up as a 21-year-old as a late replacement for the injured Alan Ward and played a full role in a famous 2-0 series win.
Nicknamed “Goose” for his unconventionally loose-limbed approach to the crease, he was capable of extreme hostility with the ball, making him England’s own true answer to the West Indian and Australian pace batteries that dominated the 1970s and early 1980s.
His finest hour came at Headingley in 1981, when – in the wake of Ian Botham’s counter-attacking 149 not out – he tore into Australia’s second innings in a frenzied display, deliveing an incredible 18-run win with figures of 8 for 43.
He went on to lead England on 18 occasions in Test cricket, including the 1982-83 Ashes tour, where England were defeated 2-1 though not before pulling off a remarkable three-run win in the fourth Test at Melbourne.
Willis retired in 1984 as England’s leading wicket-taker, and second in the world overall, behind Australia’s Dennis Lillee. His national tally was subsequently overhauled by his long-term team-mate Botham (383), and more recently James Anderson (575) and Stuart Broad (471).
The fact that Willis endured as long as he did made him something of a medical miracle, as he had to overcame surgery on both knees in 1975 before going on to claim 899 first-class wickets at 24.99 in 308 appearances.
After retirement, Willis went on to forge a career in the media, and was most recently an acerbic and popular pundit on Sky Sports’ post-match show, The Verdict.
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.”
He is survived by his wife Lauren, daughter Katie, brother David and sister Ann.
More to follow.
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