The former England fast bowler and captain, Bob Willis, passed away at the age of 70 on Wednesday leaving everyone in the cricket family and beyond deeply saddened.
Willis made his Test debut against Australia in 1971 and went on to play 90 Tests over the next 13 years.
The sight of him thundering in menacingly to bowl at a genuinely fast pace, long legs pounding and long hair flying, became a familiar one as he spearheaded the England attack through the 70s and 80s.
Only Jimmy Anderson, Sir Ian Botham and Stuart Broad have taken more Test wickets for England than Willis, who also claimed 80 wickets in 64 One-Day Internationals.
Perhaps his greatest triumph was in the Ashes Test of 1981 at Headingley, where Botham had given his side an unlikely but slender lead after England had followed on.
Willis produced a devastating spell, tearing through the Australian order and taking 8-43 as England secured that famous victory by 18 runs.
In 1982, Willis was awarded an MBE for his services to the game. He captained England for two more years but the injuries that had plagued him since the mid-1970s took their toll and he retired as a player in 1984, having captained England in 18 Tests and 29 One-Day Internationals.
In the county game, Willis played for Surrey for two years before moving to Warwickshire where he spent 12 years, finishing with 899 wickets from 308 first-class matches.
He moved into the commentary box, working for the BBC and Sky Sports, and bringing a mix of perceptive insight, dry wit and trenchant criticism to his time at the microphone. Most recently, he covered this summer’s memorable men’s Ashes series for Sky.
Colin Graves, Chair of the ECB
Paying tribute to Willis, Colin Graves, Chair of the ECB said: “Everybody at the ECB is shocked and deeply saddened to hear this sad news.
“Bob was a wonderful fast bowler and, more than that, a tremendous character who devoted his life to cricket. Bob was not only a dear friend of mine but also a treasured member of the cricket family – he will be forever remembered by everyone in the game as an all-time great.”
Tom Harrison, the ECB’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “English cricket has lost a legend.
“Nobody who saw Bob in action will forget his contribution to the national side in some of our most famous matches, and his time as a commentator was equally memorable.
“He was a very kind and thoughtful man, with a wonderful sense of humour. Everybody who loves the game in this country will really miss him.”
Ashley Giles, Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket and, like Willis, a former Warwickshire and England player, said: “This is terribly sad news. A fellow former Bear, Bob was a larger than life personality and he has been taken from us far too soon.
“Bob loved cricket both as a player and a commentator and England matches won’t be the same without him.”
Everyone at the ECB’s thoughts are with Bob’s family and friends.