Bob Willis


Bob Willis : biography

30 May 1949 –

The third Test – Willis’ 60th – came on 16 July, and England were able to level the series 1:1 thanks to Botham’s Man of the Match performance (seven wickets, century and half century) and Willis’s hostile bowling in the second innings. Willis bowled 30 wicketless overs in Australia’s first innings, and made one one and two with the bat, before returning to bowl with Australia requiring 130 runs. At this point, England had been quoted at 500–1 to win the match. Willis began an "inspired" bowling performance, having requested to bowl downhill from the Kirkstall Lane end once Australia were 56/1. Trevor Chappell, Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop were caught by close fielders, while Rod Marsh and John Dyson were caught at fine leg and behind the wicket respectively trying to play the hook shot. Dennis Lillee was caught from the only ball Willis pitched up. Then when Willis uprooted Ray Bright’s middle stump Australia were bowled out for 111, losing by 18 runs. Willis took 8/43, his career best Test figures. Two of his victims had been out for zero, and three others for single figure scores. John Dyson had top-scored with 34 before Willis removed him. Willey recalled it as an "amazing spell" while Wisden called it "the most staggering bowling of his life when his place again seemed threatened."

England then moved into the fourth Test 1:1 in the series. Again batting first, Alderman’s five-for took England to 189 all out, with Willis making 13 runs. He then bowled a wicketless but "stormy" 19 overs "as if the devil were at his heels" and, after England had set Australia a final target of 151 runs, took two wickets which along with Botham’s five-wicket haul dismissed the Australians for 121 and handed England a 29-run victory and a series lead. Willis played for his county against Middlesex between the fourth and fifth Tests, taking one wicket. He then rejoined his team for the fifth Test at Old Trafford. England reached 231 thanks to partly to a "priceless" 56-run late partnership between Paul Allott (52) and Willis (11) before Willis then led the bowling attack with four wickets to restrict Australia to 130 all out. Another century from Botham took England to 404, setting the tourists 506 runs to win. Yallop and Alan Border both scored centuries, however three wickets for Willis and two for Paul Allott, Botham and John Emburey dismissed them for 402, 103 runs short of victory.

Willis continued to enjoy some form with the bat with 33* against Nottinghamshire in the interval between the fifth and final Tests, though he went wicketless. On 27 August, Australia and England met for the sixth Test at The Oval. The tourists reached 352 thanks to a century from Border, while Willis took four wickets and Botham six. A century from Boycott then defied Lillee’s seven wicket haul to take England to 314, and in reply Hendrick and Botham took four wickets each to set their team a target of 383 runs to win while Willis went without a wicket in the second innings. With half-centuries from Gatting and Brearley, England reached 261 before the match ended as a draw. England were victorious in the series 3:1, and Botham’s efforts led to it being unofficially referred to as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.

Willis meanwhile, travelled to India with England in November 1981 for a six Test series against India and one against Sri Lanka. He took 12 wickets at 31.75 against India, and three more Test and two wickets ODI against Sri Lanka. Between these international fixtures, Willis had secured 13 County Championship wickets at 28.55, though Warwickshire came bottom of the table.

England captaincy

Willis began the 1982 county season with five County Championship fixtures, featuring his first half-century with the bat, a career-best 72, while leading Warwickshire against the touring Indian side on 9 May. He also took two wickets. He also reached his 750th first-class wickets with his 2/71 against Yorkshire on 19 May. India were scheduled to play three Tests and two ODI matches that tour; however, before the matches began, the England selectors dropped Fletcher, the captain. Willis, though seen as an unlikely candidate and ambivalent towards the role, was awarded the captaincy. On 2 June, the new captain faced India as part of the England ODI squad, taking two wickets and effecting a run-out with the help of Botham, who also took four wickets. England restricted India to 193 and achieved victory by nine wickets. The second ODI match followed two days later, and England also won – this time by 114 runs with Willis taking 1/10 from seven overs.