The fast bowler took 325 wickets in 90 Tests from 1971 to 1984, claiming a career-best 8-43 to help England to a famous win over Australia at Headingley in the 1981 Ashes.
He captained England in 18 Tests and 29 one-day internationals before his retirement from all forms of cricket in 1984. In a statement, Willis’ family said he had died “after a long illness”. “We are heartbroken to lose our beloved Bob, who was an incredible husband, father, brother and grandfather,” the statement continued. “He made a huge impact on everybody he knew and we will miss him terribly.” Willis subsequently worked as a summariser on BBC TV before joining Sky Sports as a commentator in 1991. He continued to work for Sky and was part of its coverage of this summer’s Ashes series.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said it was “deeply saddened to say farewell” to a “legend of English cricket”. “We are forever thankful for everything he has done for the game,” it added. “Cricket has lost a dear friend.” Willis represented Surrey for the first two years of his professional career before spending 12 years at Warwickshire, finishing with 899 wickets from 308 first-class matches at an average of 24.99.
In a statement on Twitter, Surrey said the club was “devastated” by the news of Willis’ passing. The Sunderland-born bowler made his international debut aged 21 in the 1971 Ashes after being called up to replace the injured Alan Ward and played the final four Tests of the seven-match series as England won 2-0.
Despite needing surgery on both knees in 1975, he became one of the finest fast bowlers of his generation, playing another nine years and claiming his 325 wickets at an impressive average of 25.20. At the time of Willis’ retirement, only Australia fast bowler Dennis Lillee had taken more Test wickets.