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The late, great Bob Willis remembered on #BlueForBob Day and inducted into ICC Hall of Fame

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Michael Atherton, David Lloyd and Sir Tim Rice among those to pay tribute to Bob as Edgbaston turns #BlueForBob to help fight prostate cancer; to make a donation, visit www.BobWillisFund.org; Willis, who took 325 wickets in 90 Test for England, inducted into ICC Hall of Fame

Sky Sports

Michael Atherton, David Lloyd and Ian Ward remember Bob Willis – outstanding bowler, iconic action, caustic pundit and lovely man

The life of the late, great Bob Willis was remembered at Edgbaston as the ground turned #BlueForBob to help fight prostate cancer.

Willis passed away from prostate cancer in December 2019 at the age of 70 and Tuesday’s England vs Pakistan ODI aimed to help the Bob Willis Fund – co-founded by Willis’ wife Lauren Clark and his brother David – raise funds for and awareness of prostate cancer research.

To make a donation, visit BobWillisFund.org or text TEN, TWENTY or THIRTY to 70820 (texts cost £10, £20 or £30 plus your standard network rate).

Sky Sports Lauren Clark, the wife of the late Bob Willis, explains how the Bob Willis Fund was established and how it hopes to help fight prostate cancer

On #BlueForBob Day, Willis was officially inducted into the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame with Lauren accepting Bob’s framed cap and pin badge from his former Sky Sports colleague Michael Atherton and his close friend, lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who is also a patron of the Bob Willis Fund.

Willis took 325 wickets in 90 Tests for England – only James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Sir Ian Botham have more for the side – at an average of 25.20, with his most memorable spell coming in the Ashes Test at Headingley in July 1981 when he bagged 8-43 to shred Australia.

Michael Atherton and Sir Tim Rice presented Lauren Clark with a framed cap and pin badge as Bob Willis was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame Michael Atherton and Sir Tim Rice presented Lauren Clark with a framed cap and pin badge as Bob Willis was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame

Bob Willis – demonic bowler, generous man

The fast bowler went on to shred many a player with his words when he became an acerbic and razor-sharp pundit for Sky Sports – but his cutting on-screen persona was far removed from his genial off-screen one, with Willis an extremely private man.

Bob was a caustic pundit - but a genial man Bob was a caustic pundit – but a genial man

Speaking about Willis, Atherton told Sky Sports: “I remember the professional, the public and the private. He was definitely a great fast bowler, and England haven’t produced too many of those.

“Back then, it was a very rare thing for a fast bowler to play enough cricket to take 300 wickets for England with the stresses and strains of county cricket.

“He had this split personality – demonic fast bowler, caustic pundit but a very warm, generous, private, quite shy man. He would hate all this attention!

“He was a man of tremendous resilience and character which shone through his cricket. Cricket reveals character and it revealed a lot about Bob.”

Bob’s fellow Sky Sports analyst and close friend, David Lloyd, added: “On the 1974 tour of Australia I didn’t really know him at all but he befriended me and we became great mates. He looked after me.

“To play against him, he was a real handful when he turned it on. He was bouncy, a menace. Like John Snow, he realised he was an international fast bowler and saved himself at times to get his optimum in international cricket. He was a gem. He had a great, dry wit and was a mate for life.”

Rice said: “Bob was a wonderful man – I was slightly in awe of him. He had great musical taste as well as great sporting skill. A combination that I find irresistible. He was a great all-round person, an excellent bloke to be near.

“He was laconic, had a great, laidback sense of humour, and he was a very kind man. As [a pundit], whatever he was saying was to help the player, help Engl ish cricket. His heart was always in the right place.”

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Edgbaston claps for Bob

A 45-second applause was held for Bob at Edgbaston – a ground he called home while playing for Warwickshire between 1972 and 1984 – to signify that one man in the United Kingdom dies from prostate cancer every 45 minutes.

One in eight men in the UK will be affected by the disease but, as yet, there is no comprehensive national screening programme to highlight how aggressive a person’s cancer may be.

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Speaking on #BlueForBob Day at Edgbaston, Lauren told Sky Sports: “It feels fairly surreal and I wish I didn’t have to do it but we are trying to make something positive out of a really bad situation.

“We have worked really hard on this and a lot of people behind the scenes have done it for nothing. It is really amazing.”

Rice, who himself suffered with prostate cancer, added: “Lauren and her team are doing a wonderful amount of work as well as Bob’s brother David. We are raising a lot of money and it’s a great cause.

“Prostate cancer is such a potential killer that it is important trusts like Bob’s get the message out and the funding and that we reduce the number of people who die because of it.”

Fans attending Edgbaston were urged to wear #BlueForBob, just like the Sky Sports Cricket commentators and presenters did, with Lloyd, Atherton, Rob Key, Kumar Sangakkara, Zainab Abbas, Ian Ward and Dinesh Karthik decked in light blue – also the colour of Bob’s beloved Manchester City.

Bob also loved Bob Dylan – so much so the he added Dylan as a middle name by deed poll in 1965 – and some of the singer’s music was played at Edgbaston on Tuesday.

Dylan is also an Honorary Patron of the Bob Willis Fund, saying: “Bob Willis was a great sportsman who left too soon. I’m happy to help keep his flame and cause alive.”

Headingley spell might never have happened

As mentioned, perhaps Bob’s greatest sporting achievement was his eight wickets against Australia in Leeds 40 years ago – but Atherton revealed that Bob was not always set to play in that remarkable Test, which England won after following-on.

Atherton said: “In the previous game at Lord’s, he had flu and when Mike Brearley came in to take over from Beefy [Sir Ian Botham] as captain, in the initial 12 they didn’t pick Bob. He eventually got into the squad but it was still not certain he was going to play.

“On the morning of the game, Brears went to the ground with Bob and said, ‘what balance of side should we play here?’ Bob said four seamers when, for Brearley, it was between spinner John Emburey and Willis. A combination of luck and circumstance eventually made Bob’s legend.”

Bob took 8-43 as England beat Australia in the 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley Bob took 8-43 as England beat Australia in the 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley

Top Bob Willis stats!

Sky Cricket statistician Benedict Bermange reveals his favourite numbers from Bob’s stellar career…

– His 55 not outs were a world record from his retirement until Courtney Walsh went past him in 2000. Bob is currently fourth on the overall list

– He hit the winning runs on his ODI debut – to bring England a one-wicket victory against the West Indies at Leeds in 1973. Garry Sobers bowled the final over of the match and England needed four to win with one wicket left and Bob on strike. The second ball was hit straight back over the bowler for two; the next steered to third man for two more and England were home!

– He bowled 941 no-balls in Test cricket – more than anyone else. In his day, of course, no-balls didn’t go against the bowler. Had they done so, his Test bowling average would have risen from 25.20 to 28.09!

– Bob bowled the first over of the Wellington Test in February 1978. It was scored as a maiden to him, but it contained two no-balls and eight byes!

– The first delivery he faced in Test cricket was a hat-trick ball, from Australia’s John Gleeson. He survived it!

– Bob bowled 34 no-balls in the 1981 Edgbaston Test – which remains the Test record for a single match

– In 1971 he won the County Championship with Surrey, taking 31 wickets in 14 matches. Switching to Warwickshire, he won the 1972 Championship with them, taking 25 wickets in nine matches

– He hit one six in his Test career. That was off Alan Hurst at Adelaide on January 27, 1979. The shot went over backward point!

To make a donation, visit BobWillisFund.org or text TEN, TWENTY or THIRTY to 70820 (texts cost £10, £20 or £30 plus your standard network rate).

‘Bob Willis: A Cricketer and a Gentleman’ is available from all good bookshops and can also be ordered on Amazon.

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