Cricket Expert & Columnist
Bob Willis gave England his all and was phenomenal broadcaster
Nasser: "Bob was simply desperate for England to do well; he wasn't a pundit who wanted England to fail so that he and his era looked better"
Last Updated: 06/12/19 4:58pm
Genuine, humorous and down-to-earth - Bob Willis loved life and leaves a hole in the cricketing world that's impossible to fill.
Bob was passionate about the game and if he hadn't made such a superb broadcaster, he would have been a fabulous director of England cricket.
He understood how lucky he was to be involved in cricket and was such a pleasant bloke to spend time with, treating people the same across the board.
He possessed some killer one-liners too! Bob would often sit at the back of the commentary box reading the paper with his glasses halfway down his face, then look up and nail you with one.
A couple of years ago, a few of the commentators were fortunate to go to Spain for an end-of-season golf trip and one bus journey in particular, after a few red wines, will stick with me forever because Bob held court retelling some of his best stories. I was literally in tears.
He was nothing like the grumpy, often scathing person you saw on The Verdict and The Debate - shows he and Charles Colvile made their own. Once you got to know Bob, you understood that the persona you saw on TV was put on for that programme.
Bob was simply desperate for England to do well; he wasn't a pundit who wanted England to fail so that he and his era looked better.
The moment the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson went past him in the list of wicket-takers, he'd want to congratulate them; both of those players spent time with Bob over the years and you can see in their reaction in the last 24 hours or so that he meant a lot to them.
That was the anomaly. I remember giving him, Botham and Agnew the three-finger salute after scoring a hundred against India at Lord's in 2002 because I'd heard them saying a million times that I shouldn't be batting at three.
But at that stage, I didn't know him - and when he's nailing you what feels like every day and night either on the live coverage or the highlights, you don't see what a lovely bloke he was.
Within a day of sitting with him in the commentary box, I saw him in an entirely different light.
Bob was a phenomenal broadcaster who understood the theatre of the moment - something you only truly appreciate when you go back through the archives, like we did for the Kevin Pietersen documentary this summer.
His description of one KP clip through midwicket against Australia in 2005 evoking 'shades of Sir Vivian Richards' will always stay with me, as will the professionalism with which he prepared for the first ball of the 2005 Ashes.
His description of the moment Brian Lara surpassed Sir Garfield Sobers world-record score for the most runs in a Test innings in 1994 was word-perfect.
And, of course, he was a phenomenal bowler, as he stats suggest - 325 wickets in 90 Tests.
I remember watching him avidly. He was unique as an England bowler in that he had his own style: a zig-zagging run with the ball behind his back, long flowing locks and a glazed look, with his arms held aloft in celebration when he got the wicket.
He was different because in those days England produced pitch-it-up swing bowlers like Graham Dilley, Ian Botham and Richard Ellison. Willis was a genuine fast bowler despite being riddled with injuries.
If you ever played golf with Bob and saw him trying to pick up a tee, you instantly understood how much damage bowling fast did to his body, in particular his knees. It's remarkable he had the longevity he did at the top level.
Some of the Warwickshire members used to give him a bit of flak towards the end of his career and shout 'he only bowls fast for England' but that was because his body was failing for him and he wanted to give everything for his country.
Everyone remembers Ian Botham's innings at Headingley in 1981 but really it was Bob's spell of 8-43 that finished off Australia.
We'll all miss him greatly.
Bob Willis was a pleasure to be around, a terrific pundit, charming man, and superb company, not to mention a fantastic bowler Bob Dylan and Wagner have one fewer afficionado today, and here he is in full flow as we should remember him. RIP Bob pic.twitter.com/eCtyxyKBQu— Benedict Bermange (@Benedict_B) December 4, 2019