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Tributes pour in as 'legend of English cricket' Willis passes away after illness

Bob Willis MBE, 1949-2019

Ashes hero: Bob Willis bowls during the Australian Second Innings of the Third Ashes Test in July 1981 at Headingley Stadium
Ashes hero: Bob Willis bowls during the Australian Second Innings of the Third Ashes Test in July 1981 at Headingley Stadium
Bob Willis

By Robert Jones

Former England captain and cricket pundit Bob Willis has died at the age of 70.

The pace bowler played 90 Tests for England and has been a popular figure in broadcasting since his retirement in 1984.

It is understood Willis, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, had begun to deteriorate in health over the last two months, with a recent scan revealing the cancer had advanced.

Willis' family said in a statement: "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.

"Bob is survived by his wife Lauren, daughter Katie, brother David and sister Ann.

"The Willis family has asked for privacy at this time to mourn the passing of a wonderful man and requests that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to Prostate Cancer UK."

It is understood Ian Botham went to see his former team-mate earlier this week, with fellow former England players John Lever and David Brown visiting yesterday before Willis died.

Willis' most famous moment as a player came in the 1981 Ashes series as his eight for 43 fired England to a remarkable win in the third Test at Headingley. He is England's fourth highest wicket-taker of all time with 325 wickets.

Willis' former county Surrey paid tribute on Twitter, saying: "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."

Former England fast bowler Darren Gough said Willis was "hugely admired".

"As a player he had a big heart, he'd run in, nearly 6ft 6ins, and hit the pitch hard. At his peak 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."

The England and Wales Cricket Board said 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."

An emotional Paul Allott described Willis as a "sweet, sweet guy" with whom he had become very close 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 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.

"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 to 25 years with him. We had an absolutely wonderful time. Bob was such a sweet, sweet guy."

Former England captain Nasser Hussain, who worked alongside Willis at Sky, tweeted: "Great cricketer .. even better bloke RIP Bob"

Former England captain David Gower 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."

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