England legend Bob Willis Dies at age 70
One of England's greatest ever fast bowlers has died, with the legendary Bob Willis succumbing to cancer at the age of 70. The 6'6" Willis was a feature of England's Test side from 1971 until 1984, and also played a key role in the early stages of 50-over cricket.
Though Willis excelled at both formats of the game, it was for his exploits in five-day cricket that he was most well known. In all, he played in 90 Tests, accumulating 325 wickets at an average of just 25.2 courtesy of an unconvential run-up which earned him the nickname of Goose. That he managed to play international Test cricket for 14 years was testament to his courage; Willis had surgery on both knees at the age of just 26, and even playing at all required enormous dedication and willpower, let alone doing so for nine years after the operations.
Ten years into his Test career, Willis assumed the responsibility of Test captain, and would ultimately go on to lead the team for the final three years of his career. England's best bowler for much of his career, Willis also captained his country at the 1983 World Cup in 50-over cricket, where he led them to a semi-final - there, however, they were comfortably defeated by an Indian side which would ultimately go on to win the event. Though it was still a developing format and much of his career was centred around red ball cricket, he still enjoyed a great deal of success in short-form cricket, where he picked up 80 wickets in 64 matches at an average of just 24.6. He conceded just 3.28 runs per over with the red ball, and a number of his greatest innings' demonstrated his capacity to restrict run scoring while simultaneously picking up wickets - perhaps the most notable examples of these were his 4/15 off 11 overs against Pakistan in Manchester in 1978, and his 4/23 against Pakistan in Sydney as his career neared an end in 1983.
Perhaps his greatest moment in either format of the game came in 1981 at Headingley in the third Test of The Ashes. The Test is known as the Botham Test due to Beefy's incredible unbeaten innings of 149 - which came off just 148 deliveries - but Willis played a role every bit as significant. After England conceded a first innings deficit well in excess of 200 and was forced to follow on, they found themselves five wickets down and still over 100 runs in arrears. Beefy Botham entered and compiled his extraordinary innings to give them a chance, but despite that they still only managed to set Australia a modest fourth innings target of just 130 runs for victory. With Australia cruising at 1/56, Willis turned the game on its head, picking up eight of the final nine wickets and leading his team to a famous 18 run victory. He finished the innings with an incredible 8/43 off 15.1 overs, the best figures of his career.
Willis' sensational international career formed only a part of an incredible contribution to cricket. He also had a distinguished domestic career during which he played predominantly for Warwickshire, and in all ended his career with 899 first class wickets in 308 matches at an average of 24.99. An extraordinary achievement for anyone, the longevity and continued high level of performance which he managed defied the severity of his knee injuries.
Following his phenomenal career, Willis went on to become a respected member of the media. Most recently, this included appearances on Sky Sports' post match show called The Verdict. Willis was renowned for his willingness to speak his mind as well as his sharp sense of humour, and was a popular member of the media.
The man known as Goose left an indelible mark on our great game, and tributes have come pouring in in the wake of his death. Many of his teammates have enjoyed regaling friends and fans alike with stories of their time with him, while the English Cricket Board also put out a statement, recognising that with the passing of Willis, 'cricket has lost a dear friend'.