sport news OBITUARY: Bob Willis took 325 Test wickets, but generations will remember his ...

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It is an image that will be forever remembered as one of the greatest moments in the history of English cricket.

There is Bob Willis, arms aloft but still with that almost trance like look on his face, sprinting off on his own after taking his eighth wicket of the innings to complete the original miracle of Headingley in 1981.

It was the undoubted highlight in the career of one of the greatest of all English fast bowlers who has died in hospital near his London home after illness aged 70.

Willis, with that distinctive long hair and much impersonated piston-like action, knees pumping throughout his extra-long run-up, defied repeated injury to take 325 wickets in his 90 Tests and captained his country towards the end of a distinguished career.

Bob Willis played a huge part in England completing the original miracle of Headingley in 1981

Bob Willis played a huge part in England completing the original miracle of Headingley in 1981

But it was that day in Leeds when, running downhill from the Kirkstall Lane End and defying his penchant for no balls, he took eight for 43 to demolish Australia for 111, just 18 short of their modest target, that has gone down in cricketing legend.

It was a performance to inspire a generation of young cricket fans - including this correspondent who, aged 15, bunked off school to watch the closing stages of that tumultuous Test across the road on TV at a friend's house.

We later confessed what we had done to our geography teacher who was furious - not that we had missed his lesson but that we had failed to tell him what we were doing so he could come and watch the gripping denouement with us.

Years later I was privileged to be handed one of the highlights of my journalistic career when, together with Sportsmail colleague Mike Dickson, we took the by then retired Willis and Dennis Lillee back to Headingley to revisit the scene of that unforgettable Test from both an English and Australian perspective. How we hung on every word the pair said.

That fabled 1981 series will always be known as Botham's Ashes but it was Ian's great friend and sparring partner Willis who bowled England to a sensational against the odds victory that everyone insisted could never be repeated - until Ben Stokes pulled off 'The Miracle of Headingley, the Sequel' only last summer.

Willis took 325 wickets in his 90 Tests and captained his country in his England career

Willis took 325 wickets in his 90 Tests and captained his country in his England career

It says everything about Willis the man that he was delighted Stokes had somehow upstaged him by producing an even greater individual performance to again upset the Australians at that same fabled Headingley ground 38 years on.

For the reputation Willis later garnered as an outspoken pundit who was never afraid to come off that long run up of his on Sky and let rip at today's generation was at odds with his warm and funny, albeit a little reserved with those he did not know well, personality.

Make no mistake, Willis was passionate and forward thinking about cricket throughout his life and cared deeply about the England team and the health of the domestic game, criticising administrators as articulately and fearlessly as any player.

And how satisfying it was to his many friends and admirers that Willis in the later stages of his broadcasting career should carve out such a niche for himself on Sky's Verdict and Debate programmes after each day's play alongside Charles Colvile.

His opening gambit of 'Well, Charles,' before taking a deep breath and then informing and entertaining us with a lengthy monologue about how and why England had gone wrong became unmissable TV and was copied almost as much as his bowling action..

Willis was passionate about the game of cricket both on and off the field

Willis was passionate about the game of cricket both on and off the field

But however successful Willis became after retiring from playing, both as a technically brilliant broadcaster and a Chardonnay loving wine producer

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