A case could be made that Bob Willis was the most courageous fast bowler who ever played for England. After operations on both knees in 1975, when he was 26, he seldom bowled without pain, and at one stage had to run five miles a day to build the strength to play at all. Yet through sheer willpower he sustained his career…
A case could be made that Bob Willis was the most courageous fast bowler who ever played for England. After operations on both knees in 1975, when he was 26, he seldom bowled without pain, and at one stage had to run five miles a day to build the strength to play at all. Yet through sheer willpower he sustained his career for nine more years, and emerged with 325 wickets from his 90 Tests. Fitting as it was the last game of any consequence he played should have been for England, it was cruel that the 1984 West Indian assault that proved his time had come took place at Headingley, scene of the his greatest triumph, the famous 8 for 43 that beat Australia in the Botham Test three years before.
Willis, a bony 6ft 6ins with sharp knees and elbows and a cascade of curly brownish-auburn hair, was a rarity among international sportsmen: no athlete in the accepted sense, his only aptitude was bowling, and that mainly through aggression and determination. But Frank Tyson was England’s only postwar bowler who was clearly faster; and none, not even Fred Trueman, was a more intimidating sight than Willis as he charged dead straight down his 30-yard approach.
On retirement he moved into the media, and for many years formed a strong partnership with Ian Botham for Sky Sports, a sharp and humourous individual was always bubbling away just under the surface. He retired from commentary in 2006. However, his knowledge of the game is second to none and is an in demand after dinner speaker.
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