A great cricketer but an even better bloke – Hussain leads tributes to Willis

By Chris Myson 5 December 2019 2
A great cricketer but an even better bloke – Hussain leads tributes to Willis

Bob Willis was remembered as "a great cricketer but an even better bloke" by Nasser Hussain as tributes were paid to the Ashes hero who has died at the age of 70.

Willis' family confirmed on Wednesday he passed away following an illness, having continued working as a broadcaster until earlier this year.

Best known for his role alongside Ian Botham in England's famous 1981 Ashes series victory over Australia, Willis took 325 Test wickets and also had a spell as captain in an illustrious career.

A successful career in punditry, most prominently with Sky Sports, followed, with his harsh criticisms of England players after the team had suffered defeats often proving popular with viewers.

"There will not be many who came across Bob Willis without liking him," fellow former England captain Hussain wrote in the Daily Mail. "He had the time of day for everyone, whoever they were, and he never took himself too seriously.

"Those who knew him will not have a bad word to say about him and that is the perfect tribute. He was a great cricketer but more importantly he was an even better bloke who will be missed by the whole cricketing world.

"Bob was so pleased when he saw Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad go past his Test-wicket tally and the mantle of Botham and Willis being passed on to them. And when he did sit down with them they quickly realised what a font of knowledge he was."

Hussain added of Willis' tough-talking TV verdicts: "The Bob Willis you saw on TV and the image he created as a somewhat grumpy persona, staring at the camera and coming out with so many great lines, was far from the truth.

"I fell into the trap myself of believing the Willis TV persona when I played. The three fingers I aimed at the media box when I scored a century against India at Lord's were for Bob, Ian Botham and Jon Agnew.

"He made you cross because he was so forthright with his opinions and I would go back to my room as a player wondering if he was going to crucify me on TV. Yet when we did all meet him we quickly realised he was one of the good guys."

Another ex-England captain, David Gower, played alongside Willis and Botham in the 1981 Ashes and paid tribute to the former fast bowler's personality.

Gower told Sky Sports: "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 5,000 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."

Former England bowler Darren Gough highlighted Willis' accomplishments on the pitch.

"As a player he had a big heart, he'd run in, nearly 6ft 6ins, and hit the pitch hard," Gough said to talkSPORT.

"At his peak he was one of the best three bowlers in the world. He was hugely admired all around the world and everybody knew who he was."

Graham Gooch, who captained England after Gower's tenure ended in 1989, said: "I think everyone in the cricketing fraternity around the world will be devastated that such an iconic figure in world cricket, certainly in English cricket, has left us.

"Bob was a great inspiration to a lot of players, generation after generation."

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