Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Remembering Bob Willis at his fearsome best

Another hero of my youth died today: Bob Willis.

Many readers will know him only as a grumpy pundit, but I remember him as a thrilling England fast bowler.

The profile, written when he was chosen as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year in 1978, sets out the first half of his career.

The early success - he was plucked from the obscurity of Surrey seconds to join a victorious Ashes tour under Ray Illingworth in 1970/1 - and his subsequent struggles with injury.

Through it all, he remained determined not only to bowl for England but to bowl fast. No settling for being a traditional English seamer for him.

He established himself as England's premier fast bowler on Tony Greig's 1976/7 tour of India. On pitches made for the home team's spinners he took 20 wickets at less than 17 runs each.

For half a dozen years or more after that, he was the leader of England's attack.

His 8 for 43 to complete the miracle of Headingley in 1981 has been shared everywhere today, so here he is, again playing Australia, taking 7 for 78 at Lord's in 1977.

Bonus points for anyone who can name the blond, balding cover fielder or the chunky one who takes a catch at square leg.


Hywel said...

It's very sad news. My Bob memory is his 24* in a 100+ last wicket partnership to save the game with Peter Willey. Against the West Indies with Marshall, Holding, Garner and Croft in their prime!

Well Alan Ealham is named in the commentary. I'm not sure why but Graham Roope suggests as a name for the other.

Mark Cox said...

Graham Barlow at cover who was a Middlesex player.

You see I'm someone else who wasted his childhood summer holidays watching cricket!

RIP Bob Willis a true gent and a cricketer who meant what he said and said what he meant

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you both. Barlow played only a few tests, but along with Derek Randall (and David Gower the following year) he lifted England's fielding standards to unrecognisable heights.

Alan Ealham (Mark's father) may not look it, but he was a brilliant outfielder and was used as a substitute in several tests that summer.

Graham Roope did appear in this series, but he was a specialist slip fielder.