A legendary fast bowler and a great of the English game in his own right, Bob Willis developed a reputation for his dryly-delivered, yet unquestionably scathing verdicts during his punditry career. Here are a few of his best quips…
“The standard of journalism in this country has gone down the nick completely. People have to rely on small-minded quotes from players under pressure for their stories – where they used to write about cricket, they don’t seem to be able to do that anymore.”
Willis – himself the son of a BBC journalist – launches into the press pack after wrapping up a stunning turnaround at Headingley in 1981.
“Well I’m very flattered, Joe, that you likened me to Albert Einstein – quite a good impression of the late Brian Clough, I thought. But, young man, when your little purple patch comes to an end… I’ll have you back in the dock!”
With a grin on his face, Willis responds to Joe Root’s impersonation of him following England’s Ashes win in 2015.
“Once the onslaught came he didn’t have an answer: short, wide, full, half-volley, wide… this is garbage.”
Narrating a highlights package, Willis gives his verdict on Chris Morris’ performance against England in January 2016.
“Now what bird brains over there thought that Ben Foakes wouldn’t score more runs than Jennings, Sam Curran wouldn’t score more runs than Jennings, Chris Woakes on one leg hopping around wouldn’t score more runs than Jennings, and Jack Leach wouldn’t score more runs than Jennings? That excruciating innings by the left-handed opener just was… embarrassing, absolutely embarrassing. Why the guy was anywhere near the team… he looked as if he was embarrassed being out there.”
After Keaton Jennings’ 43-ball 8 against West Indies in February 2019, Willis questions the batsman’s place in the side.
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“Would I have liked to have played T20? Not half, only four overs a day? Wouldn’t mind getting smashed around for the sort of money these guys are earning these days.”
Never one to take himself too seriously, Willis suggests he would enjoy life as a modern cricketer.
“Let’s be honest, England was the only country that had decent umpires. We heard all about Indian umpires, Pakistan umpires but I can tell you: Australian umpires were cheats, there was no doubt about that, and you ask Michael Holding about New Zealand umpires. They were absolutely shocking as well: bias in the extreme.”
After England get the rough end of the stick during their 2012 tour against Pakistan in the UAE, Willis recounts the standard of umpiring during his own playing days.
“If you look closely, Charles, Ishant Sharma [is] a great student of the game, and that black-and-white archive back in India, and he’s quaking in his boots just at the sight of this action. And the very next ball, what happens? Cook mops him up!”
Responding after Alastair Cook’s only Test wicket, when he had Ishant Sharma caught behind while mimicking Willis’ distinctive action.
“England are careering headlong into those dark, dismal days of Hussain being booed at the Oval and Duncan Fletcher being appointed to come in and rescue the team. It’s just getting worse and worse. We thought perhaps that Auckland, 58 all out, might have been a blip but it’s not looking that way now. I think complete structural change is needed in the English game to try and produce better cricketers.”
Following defeat to Pakistan at Lord’s in 2018, Willis sums up his feelings towards the current crop of England internationals.
“Certainly not. I don’t go with all this ‘resting players’. You know, Stokes and Buttler were in the IPL, weren’t they, filling their wallets in April and May – why are they ‘resting’ during a Test match?”
Willis rebuts the suggestion that England’s struggles in their Test against Ireland this summer could be put down to a World Cup hangover.
“That was abject, Charles, absolutely pathetic. Apart from Joe Root and Ben Stokes, these guys cannot bat, it’s as simple as that. The Ashes have now gone, it’s going to be all over inside three Test matches, and if the penny hasn’t now dropped with England’s cricket administrators about the programme of four-day cricket… if they want the primary of Test-match cricket, if they want to keep the best form of the game alive, they’re going to have to do something about it and pretty damn quick, because this was totally unacceptable.”
No holds barred after England are bowled out for 67 in the third Ashes Test at Headingley this summer… they wrapped up a one-wicket win two days later.
“There should be three sets of stocks in the town square in Leeds: one for Andy Flower, one for Alastair Cook, and one for Jonathan Trott. And a great big barrel of rotten tomatoes to hurl at them.”
Normally one to encourage Test teams to dig in and bat properly, Willis launches into England’s negative tactics in their painstaking victory against New Zealand in 2013.