Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 5, 2019

Bob Willis 30 May 1949 – 4 December 2019

The “D” stood out. We soon learned that it stood for Dylan – after his beloved Bob and not The Magic Roundabout’s rabbit. But the big man with the big hair always had something of that rabbit about him – the “D” suited him well..

He could take time to rev himself up, but once all the cylinders were firing, that goose-stepping run would bring him to the crease on a crazy diagonal that was straightened as he got older, and the arm would come right over the top, the wrist perfectly vertical, the seam cleaving the air ready to jag a little this way, a little that. Mike Brearley – of course Mike Brearley – knew best how to stir the man, how best to find the words and deeds to provoke that look in the eyes that batsmen feared (and, I suspect, a few teammates too). Nobody was more clearly in “The Zone” – a zone that did not yet have its definite article.

Headingley 1981 was his monument, his charge from the field as iconic as the yorker that exploded the stumps. You wouldn’t – and it’s an important quality in a fast bowler – want to get in the way of him.

He was one of the last pure fast bowling captains, but it never quite seemed to sit well with him. He was an astute cricketer, but that same distance that transported him to the place where he found the mental and physical strength to do the hard, hard work of propelling the ball 20 yards at 90mph, always seemed like his own space, not one into which other players could easily be invited. His media duties too seemed to come from somewhere far from the banter and bonhomie enjoyed by a dressing room insider – but maybe it was just that stare and that drawl.

Later he became a commentator and summariser whose dark wit passed some by, who suffered fools on the field with a barely disguised contempt, who could never quite convey his love of the game to those of us on the other side of the screen. As cricket and its media changed, he was in danger of being left behind.

Remarkably, late in his media career, he found his television Brearley in Charles Colville, whose gentle teasing brought out the best of Big Bob, never more so than in The Verdict. Sky’s post-match punditry show was at its most compelling when England had had a bad day, and “Lord Justice Willis” would sit in judgement, egged on by Colville and clips of wide ones chased, arms shouldered, and bouncers bowled pointlessly short. Now the eye had a glint, the language a bite, but also a warmth too when deserved. The best tribute I can pay is that the show was often a better watch than the cricket that preceded it.

A few years ago after play had finished early at Lord’s, I chatted to the long man in the Media Centre, both of us watching the golf. I can’t remember much of the conversation beyond how easy it was – and the constant thought that I was talking to Bob Willis, a very rare English fast bowler. a hero of my youth.

 


Responses

  1. I loved Charles and Bob interacting on The Verdict. (In fact I loved that show – so much better than most of the obvious comments from former England captains during the day’s play – please write a blog post about it!) I loved Bob’s passion and honesty and agree that his humour was sometimes missed – I’m sure his tongue was pretty firmly lodged in his cheek a lot of the time. Always happy to eat his words if it meant England were doing well. I remember when I think Chris Woakes had done well after Bob had called him a county trundler … Bob turned to the camera, picked up a sheet of paper, scrunched it up, put it in his mouth and started chewing!


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