Former England captain Bob Willis has died after a short illness, aged 70.
The Sky Sports pundit made 90 Test appearances and 64 one-day internationals for his nation between 1971 and 1984.
He finished his career with 325 wickets, leaving him fourth on the all-time list of England wicket-takers behind James Anderson, Ian Botham and Stuart Broad.
Willis’ family released a statement to Sky News which read: “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 Surrey, Warwickshire and Marylebone Cricket Club bowler played a big role in the 1981 Ashes series in England - a series known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ after fellow cricketer Ian Botham.
Willis’ fast-bowling display in one Test saw him take 8-43, enforcing a collapse and dismantling Australia to help England to victory at Headingley from a helpless position.
Last year, he was named in the England and Wales Cricket Board’s greatest Test team and was described as and ‘indefatigable and aggressive fast bowler’.
‘Cricket has lost a dear friend’
The ECB added that ‘cricket had lost a dear friend’.
“The ECB is deeply saddened to say farewell to Bob Willis, a legend of English cricket, at the age of 70,” a 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 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.
“Everyone at the ECB sends sincere condolences to his family. Cricket has lost a dear friend.”
Everyone who ever grew up playing cricket in the 70s and 80s used to do a Bob Willis’ running in to bowl impression. Imitation really can be the sincerest form of flattery.
— daniel norcross (@norcrosscricket) December 4, 2019
#OnThisDay in 1981, arguably the greatest comeback in Test history got underway.
England were facing an innings defeat at Headingley before Ian Botham smashed 149* from 148 balls to set Australia 130 to win.
Then Bob Willis steamed in, taking 8/43 to seal an 18-run win 🔥 pic.twitter.com/JQdoOXOt1J
— ICC (@ICC) July 20, 2019
‘A very kind man... legend’
An emotional Paul Allott described Willis as a “sweet, sweet guy” and one of his closest friends.
Allott, a team-mate and former broadcasting colleague of Willis, 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.”
Allott added: “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.
“Not only did we play together but we worked in the commentary box together where I probably had the best part of 20-25 years with him.
“We had an absolutely wonderful time. Bob was such a sweet, sweet guy.”
Fellow former England cricketer Robert Croft posted his own tribute on Twitter, calling Willis a ‘legend’, while Darren Gough called Willis was ‘hugely admired’.
I can’t believe the news about Bob Willis. Always a very kind man and a bloody legend. Didn’t leave you guessing about what he thought and an amazing character and Cricketer. Thanks for everything Bob xxx
— Robert Croft (@RDBCroft10) December 4, 2019
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.
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) December 4, 2019
“As a player he had a big heart, he’d run in, nearly 6ft 6ins, and hit the pitch hard. At his peak he was one of the best three bowlers in the world,” Gough said on Talksport.
“He was hugely admired all around the world. Everybody knew who he was.
“If you just saw him on TV people might think he’s a bit straight, but in his company over a glass of wine he would make you laugh all night.”
David Gower, who worked alongside him with Sky Sports, described Willis as ‘a very loyal friend and a loyal supporter’.
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.
“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.”
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. pic.twitter.com/hTzuyNaz4X
— Surrey Cricket (@surreycricket) December 4, 2019
Warwickshire CCC is deeply saddened to learn that former captain and fast bowler Bob Willis has passed away at the age of 70.
The thoughts of all Bears are with his family and friends.
📝 https://t.co/dAkA1xKDLV pic.twitter.com/sxiFrCZGTw
— Warwickshire CCC 🏏 (@WarwickshireCCC) December 4, 2019
Willis was often seen on Sky Sports’ ‘Verdict’ programme, which would discuss the action from the day’s Test cricket action.
Gower added: “There is a huge contrast to Bob because a lot of people, especially in recent years, have seen him doing Sky’s ‘The Debate’, ‘Verdict’ those sort of programmes where his opinions have been put across in great style.
“He’s a multi-faceted character. He’s a Bob Dylan fan, the fact he changed his name by deed poll to Robert George Dylan Willis gives you a clue there. He could tell you any Dylan lyric over the last 5000 years.
“He was a bright man, very opinionated in all sorts of things, not just cricket, and was such very, very good company and not just a wine connoisseur.”
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