News World UK England’s Headingley hero Bob Willis dies

England’s Headingley hero Bob Willis dies

bob willis dies
Bob Willis, pictured here in 1974, died in December at the age of 70. He was considered an Ashes hero, after saving England at Headingley in 1981. Photo: AAP
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Bob Willis wrote himself into English sporting folklore on a single day in 1981.

At 32 and having just recovered from knee surgery, he went into the third Ashes Test at Headingley knowing his international career was fast approaching a crossroads.

The seeds of an unlikely victory had been sewn by a belligerent but seemingly futile innings of 149 not out from Ian Botham, but they reached full bloom in the hands of Willis.

Set just 130 to win, Australia embarked upon its second innings fully expecting to ease its way to victory with the minimum of fuss and, having reached 1-56, was well on course.

It was then that Willis produced the performance of his life, pounding across the West Yorkshire turf in the manner of an enraged bull to blast his way through what remained of the Australian batting line-up to return career-best figures of 8-43 and secure an improbable 18-run victory.

Robert George Dylan Willis – or, more accurately, Robert George Willis – was born in Sunderland on May 30, 1949.

The youngest of three siblings, he added ‘Dylan’ to his name by deed poll as a teenager in tribute to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, of whom he was a devoted fan.

The newest member of the family spent only a matter of weeks on Wearside, where his father Ted was a journalist, before the family relocated to Manchester, the baby receiving a somewhat rude welcome at the hands of a porter at Piccadilly Station when his carry-cot was dropped on to the rails.

When Willis was five years old, the family moved once again, this time to the Surrey village of Stoke d’Abernon. It was there that his love of sport, in particular and cricket and football, blossomed.

Indeed, the game in which he was to forge an international reputation was to prove a distraction during his days at Guildford’s Royal Grammar School.

Under-performance in his O-levels meant Willis had to stay back a year and, although he belatedly knuckled down, by his own admission he became something of a rebel.

“I became a loner and have no doubt, in retrospect, that I was a thoroughly disagreeable young man,” he said.

Willis had to shelve his plans to go to university when his A-level grades fell below what was required. He briefly contemplated a career as an insurance agent, having already had a spell as a petrol pump attendant.

He made his County Championship bow against Yorkshire at Scarborough and continued his education at Trent Bridge, where he took a creditable 5-78 in the first innings against Nottinghamshire, but only after the great Gary Sobers had dented his early return of 4-11.

At the age of 21, he was summoned to Australia to join the England squad for the 1970-71 Ashes series.

Willis made his debut at Sydney as the tourists took a 1-0 lead in the series after the first two Tests had been drawn and the third washed out and he retained his place for the rest of the tour to launch his international career.

Standing at almost two metres and a model of intensity, he was an intimidating sight as he embarked upon his idiosyncratic 30-metre run-in before delivering the ball at menacing pace.

He would play 90 Tests, including a spell as captain and take 325 wickets at an average of 25.20.

After his retirement in 1984 his knowledge and understanding of the game were put to good use in the commentary box, where his no-nonsense assessment and dry wit proved popular.

Willis, who is survived by his second wife Lauren, died on December 4 at the age of 70 after a battle with prostate cancer.

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