Bob Willis may not have played for Yorkshire, but his impact on cricket within the county was huge.
One of the ECB’s current catchlines is ‘Inspiring a Generation’, and that is exactly what the late ex-England fast bowler did to White Rose supporters with his contribution in the Miracle of 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley.
Willis died following illness on December 4, 2019, aged 70.
A popular pundit who called a spade a spade – surely a quality of a Yorkshireman – Sunderland-born Willis took 325 wickets in 90 Tests between 1971 and 1984.
A tall and wiry seamer who battled through surgery on both knees in his mid-twenties, the former Surrey and Warwickshire man captained England in 18 Tests.
His Test best of 8-43 from 15.1 overs came at the perfect time.
Defending a 130 target in the third Test at Headingley in 1981, with Australia 1-0 up, Willis demolished the Aussies for 111.
Without Ian Botham’s second-innings century, which dragged England back from the brink of defeat, Willis could not have done what he did. But there was no denying his was one of the greatest bowling performances witnessed at Leeds.
Following a career which yielded 1,320 wickets – 899 of them first-class victims – Willis, also a lover of music, worked as a commentator and pundit for BBC and Sky TV.
His most famous role was as the face of the often hard-hitting Cricket Verdict/Debate show on Sky, reviewing every day of England Tests.
He was on duty in August to assess Ben Stokes’ sensational unbeaten 135 as England beat Australia to level the 2019 Ashes at 1-1 – the only rival to ’81 as Headingley’s greatest Test.
“Naturally, his unbeaten 135 will be compared to Ian Botham’s 149 at Headingley 38 years ago – and let me tell you, Ben’s is the better knock,” he said.
Willis was England’s fourth leading Test wicket-taker when he passed away. But his contribution to English cricket extends way beyond that.