Bob Willis had a heart of gold, says former England team-mate and friend Paul Allott
Last Updated: 06/12/19 2:48pm
Bob Willis had "a heart of gold", says former England team-mate and long-time Sky Sports commentary colleague Paul Allott.
Willis passed away peacefully on Wednesday at the age of 70, with Allott by his side. He played 90 Tests for England and had taken a then-record 325 wickets when he retired in 1984.
Willis took up a punditry position with Sky Sports in 1990, where he was famed for his straight-talking critique of the England team, but Allott said a "kind and gentle" individual lay beneath the surface.
"Bob and I became the very best of friends," Allott told Sky Sports. "We played together - he was my first vice-captain for England - and we worked in the commentary box for Sky, travelling the world. We had an absolutely wonderful time.
"He took me under his wing on my first tour in India in 1981. I was part of a crop of young bowlers that went out there and Bob, even though he was the spearhead of the attack, he was always extremely considerate with us, knowledgeable and encouraging. That's what he was like in life.
"Bob was just a sweet, sweet guy. He was always kind and considerate, but tough as well. Tough as old boots.
"Yet beneath that quite stern exterior that he portrayed on Sky Sports, there was a heart of gold. He was a hugely kind and gentle individual.
"It is difficult because we were the very best of friends and we were together at the end.
"I was there when Bob passed away, with Lauren, his wife, and Katie, his daughter, in Wimbledon this afternoon. It was a peaceful passing, but it was obviously a hugely emotional moment.
"The response to the news has been absolutely phenomenal from the cricketing world, all around the world as well. I'm sure that Lauren, Katie and all the family will be pleased about that at such a tricky time."
A wonderful friend, and a fine pundit, Bob was an even better bowler, a "phenomenal" cricketer, according to Allott, who was capped 13 times for England.
"He was infinitely better than me," Allott added. "He was the second man to 300 wickets for England, passing Fred Trueman's record.
"I remember Fred saying when he got to 300 wickets, that whoever passed him 'would be bloody tired'. When Bob was interviewed after passing Fred's record, he said 'I'm not tired, I'm going to go on a bit more'.
"He was a phenomenal cricketer, plucked out of nowhere really. When he first played for England in the 1970s, I think he had only played a handful of county games.
"But he had that wonderful attribute of pace, pure pace. Combine that with his 6ft 5in height, he got immeasurable amounts of bounce as well and formed one of the most fantastic opening bowling partnerships of all time with Ian Botham.
"The Botham-Willis partnership sustained and thrilled England supporters for a huge amount of time through the back end of the 1970s and 80s."