Bob Willis


Bob Willis : biography

30 May 1949 –

Willis had thus earned a second season at Surrey, and in 1970 played 14 Championship matches, taking 40 first-class wickets at 28.37, and 31 one day wickets at 14.65. Surrey came fifth in the Championship that year. He achieved a noteworthy performance in the Gillette Cup quarter-final against Middlesex. In a high-scoring match, Surrey made 280 for the loss of five wickets. Middlesex appeared to be coasting to victory when they reached 240–3, but Willis turned the game, and they collapsed and finished on 272–9. Willis took 6–49 in his 12 overs and won the Man of the Match award. Despite this, Surrey’s preference for Geoff Arnold and Robin Jackman kept Willis out of the side on occasions. He prepared to spend the winter employed at the Crystal Palace Recreation Centre while playing as a goalkeeper for local football club Cobham. However, Ray Illingworth and Colin Cowdrey, captain and vice captain of England’s Test side, contacted him via telephone to ask him to travel to Australia and join the current England tour there. Willis, who knew that Illingworth and Cowdrey had little knowledge of his bowling, later credited his call up to the influence of senior member of the touring party John Edrich, Willis’ long-term friend, mentor, and Surrey team-mate.

International beginnings

Willis joined England’s 1970–71 tour of Australia as a replacement for the injured Alan Ward, and played several warm-up matches for the MCC in December. Wisden records that his "infectious enthusiasm and team spirit played no small part in Australia’s downfall" as England won The Ashes in the subsequent Test series. Willis’ first Test, on 9 January 1971 – the fourth Test of the series, played when the series stood level after two draws and an abandonment – saw him score 15 not out as England batted first and reached 332. In the Australian first innings he bowled an economical nine overs for 26 runs, while Derek Underwood took four wickets to reduce Australia to 236. Subsequently, an unbeaten 142* from Geoffrey Boycott set Australia 416 to win. With John Snow routing Australia with 7/40, Willis was only given three overs to bowl on a pitch "without pace", but he managed to take his first Test wicket – Ashley Mallett, caught by Alan Knott for six.

Willis remained in the team for the fifth Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground, and rewarded the selectors with 3/73 in the first innings and 1/42 in the second as the match was drawn. Of the final two matches, Willis took three wickets in the drawn Adelaide Oval Test, and four more in the final match of the series, a victory at Sydney Cricket Ground which gave England a 2:0 series victory. Willis finished his first Test series with 12 wickets at 27.41, and had also taken several "crucial catches". He was retained for the second match of the two-Test series against New Zealand in Auckland in March, where he took two wickets.

Surrey to Warwickshire

Willis returned in early 1971 to help Surrey win the 1971 County Championship title. However, friction was developing between the club and himself. During that season Willis took 31 Championship wickets at 28.83, but found himself unable to accept the contract offered to him by the club. Though the county was reluctant to lose him, Willis sought another club. He took two wickets in his final match for Surrey against Hampshire on 11 September 1971. After turning down Leicestershire and Lancashire he signed for Warwickshire, for whom he had immediate success, with 25 wickets at 29.28, including one five-wicket haul (taking five wickets in one innings). Willis, who under rules then applying was banned from playing for his new county before July, helped Warwickshire win the 1972 Championship, thus achieving the unusual feat of winning the Championship in consecutive years with two different counties. In his final match of the season, he took 8/44 to dismantle Derbyshire. His new team won nine of their 20 matches, drew 11 and lost none. He was not selected for the 1972 Ashes series in England, and travelled to South Africa as part of Derrick Robins’ invitation XI in January. On the tour Willis took 13 wickets from the six matches.