Bob Willis

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Bob Willis : biography

30 May 1949 –

With two victories under his belt, Willis led his team to the first Test on 10 June. Batting first, he hit a career-best 28 runs in a last-wicket partnership with Allott (41) worth 70 – an England record against India – which took the hosts to 433 all out. Willis then set about taking apart the Indian batting line-up with 3/41 and 6/101 to leave England 65 runs to chase, which they reached for the loss of three wickets. Wisden described Willis as "bowling near his fastest" and he took his 250th Test wicket during the match. Willis took two further wickets in the second Test; however, centuries from Botham and Sandeep Patil ensured large innings scores that pushed the match to a draw. Botham followed with his career-best 208 in the third match to take England to 594 all out, and Willis then took 3/78 to keep India to 410. He then declared England’s second innings at 191 to leave India 376 to win, and collected the wicket of Ravi Shastri before India closed out the final day with 111/3. Willis thus completed his first Test series in victorious fashion, with 15 Test wickets of his own at 22.00. Willis was available for only three more first-class games that season, and finished it with a total of 24 wickets at 35.08. He promptly travelled to Australia to lead England in the 1982-83 Ashes.

Over the winter of 1982/83, England’s winning Ashes team travelled to Australia under Willis’ captaincy. Willis took two three-wicket hauls in two warm-up first-class matches; however, he was absent from two others and Botham took over the captaincy. By now, continuing injury problems were beginning to plague the ageing bowler’s body. He took 3/95 in the first Test as Australia reached 424 in reply to England’s first innings 411, of which Willis had made 26. Derek Randall’s century in England’s second innings took them to 358, and Australia reached 73 at the close of play on the final day for the loss of two wickets, both of which were taken by Willis, leaving the match drawn. Willis picked up 5/66 in the second Test; however, Australia easily reached a low fourth innings target to go 1-0 up. The third Test followed a similar pattern, with England replying with two low scores in the face of Australia’s first innings 438, and Australia taking an eight-wicket win to take a 2-0 lead in the series, despite Willis’ three wickets. England achieved what was then the narrowest Ashes victory margin of three runs in the fourth Test at Melbourne, with Willis taking three wickets. Wills commentated on the game that "You never give up and you never think it has gone." The fifth match ended in a draw, so Australia won the series 2-1. Across the entire tour, Willis took 28 first-class wickets. In the following World Series Cup between England, Australia and New Zealand, England were knocked out despite 14 wickets for Willis at 21.14.

Willis returned to Warwickshire for the 1983 season, struggling in the county season with 21 wickets at 36.76 in the County Championship, though finding more success in the one day arena with a career-best 45 wickets at 16.24. He also led England in a four Test series against New Zealand, finding greater success with 20 wickets at 13.65 including a five-wicket haul. This, coming in the second Test, took Willis past 850 first-class wickets and 300 Test wickets. England won the series convincingly 3:1, and returned to New Zealand over the winter. In the drawn first Test, Willis overtook Fred Trueman’s record England tally of 307 Test wickets when he dismissed Lance Cairns in the first innings. England lost the second Test by an innings despite 4/51 from Willis. With the third Test ending as a draw, England lost the series. Willis, with increasing physical and mental weariness and now using hypnotherapy to reduce stress and focus his game, took three wickets in the following ODI series, in which England beat New Zealand 2:1.

England played a three Test series against Pakistan in early 1984, however Willis was unable to contribute more than two wickets in the first match due to injury. He made only five County Championship appearances, taking only nine wickets at 42.22. Willis, with pressure mounting due to injury and poor performances by the England team, was sacked as captain before the upcoming Test series against the West Indies, and replaced by Gower.