Saturday 13 March 2021

Guest Review: Bob Willis: A Cricketer and A Gentleman Edited by David Willis

A biography celebrating the life of the legendary cricketer Bob Willis, with tributes from key figures in sports and media and a foreword by Sir Ian Botham.

Following his passing in 2019, tributes to Bob came flooding in in every major news outlet and from every major figure in the industry - and outside of it. His career spanned decades, from his days as a cricketer for England to his time as a pundit on Sky TV. This autobiography includes never-before-seen writing from Bob alongside contributions from key figures as well as a detailed account of the great England victory over Australia at Headingly in 1981.

The book, edited by Bob's brother David, combines a new biography, written by Daily Mail sportswriter Mike Dickson, with a celebration of a truly legendary man. Tributes from some of his many friends in the world of cricket and beyond are accompanied by reflections on highlights from an eventful life, drawing on autobiographical and personal material by Bob himself, contemporary press reports and the accounts of team-mates and opponents.

Review: Bob Willis was a professional cricketer who opened the bowling for his counties, Surrey and Warwickshire, and for England. He made his England debut in 1971 and went on to play in 90 Test Matches, taking a total of 325 wickets, at the time overtaking Fred Trueman’s record tally of wickets for England. He also captained the national side in 18 Test Matches, winning 7 and losing 5. His finest hour came on the fifth day of the third Test Match against Australia at Headingley in 1981. Notwithstanding Ian Botham’s swashbuckling century the previous day, when it had appeared that England would suffer an innings defeat, Australia had been set a target of 130 to win and appeared to be cruising to victory when the score stood at 56 runs for the loss of 1 wicket. In two devastating spells either side of lunch, Bob took 8 wickets for 43 runs to bowl England to an 18 run victory. Following his retirement as a player, he worked as a television commentator/summariser, becoming known for his forthright views. He died in December 2019, aged 70.

This book is a compilation of articles, edited by his brother David Willis, about and by Bob. The first part of the book comprises a biography written by the sports journalist Mike Dickson. This is followed by contributions from a range of people, including extracts from books and articles by Bob himself, celebrating his life. Some of the tributes paid after his death are quite moving. The book is illustrated by a number of photographs, and there are copies of scorecards from notable matches. There is also a transcript of the television commentary by Richie Benaud and Christopher Martin-Jenkins describing his 8 wickets at Headingley in 1981. I read this at the same time as watching the event on video on YouTube, which I would recommend.

I had always thought Bob Willis to be a fine bowler, but quite a dour person given his terse interviews whilst a player and his often caustic opinions as a commentator. This book reveals a different side to his character, showing him to be a very sociable person with a wry sense of humour. Published in the year following his death, it is a timely celebration of the life of one of England’s legendary cricketers. Although sad in places, it is a fascinating read for all fans of the game.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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