ENGLAND cricket hero Bob Willis has died, aged 70, after secretly battling cancer for three years.
The Ashes legend and fast-paced bowler played 90 Test matches for England between 1971 and 1984 and took 325 wickets.
Willis played for Surrey, Warwickshire and England during an illustrious career.
He was famed for his long run-up and currently stands as England’s fourth-best all time wicket taker behind Jimmy Anderson, Ian Botham and Stuart Broad.
It is understood Willis was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago but never made his illness public.
His health deteriorated over the last two months after a scan revealed the cancer had advanced.
In a statement, his family said: “We are heartbroken to lose our beloved Bob, who was an incredible husband, father, brother and grandfather.
“He made a huge impact on everybody he knew and we will miss him terribly.”
His family has asked for donations to be made to Prostate Cancer UK in his memory.
The cricket world paid emotional tribute to the iconic bowler and commentator.
Announcing his death on Sky Sports News, presenter Vicky Gomersall broke down in tears as she read the family’s statement – saying: “Sorry, I’m sorry” before co-host Jim White finished the tribute.
Cricket body the MCC said: “We’re very sad to hear of the passing of MCC Honorary Life Member, Bob Willis.
“A Lord’s legend & former England captain whose name is on the Honours Boards three times. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.”
Paying tribute, former England opener and Sky pundit Michael Carberry said: “Very sad to hear the passing of Bob Willis. Had the pleasure of working with him on Sky Cricket. Great man and knowledge of the game as well as a great bowler.”
Former Nottinghamshire and England star James Taylor wrote on Twitter: “Awful to hear the passing of Bob Willis. I was lucky to work along side him not long ago with @SkyCricket !Brilliant cricketer, very knowledgeable and a lovely guy.”
Sky Sports cricket statistician Menedict Marmange said: “Bob Willis was a pleasure to be around, a terrific pundit, charming man, and superb company, not to mention a fantastic bowler Bob Dylan and Wagner have one fewer afficionado today, and here he is in full flow as we should remember him. RIP Bob.”
Ex-England footballer and Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier added: “RIP Bob Willis. Never imagined when I was growing up watching him destroy the Aussies in 1981 that many years later he’d teach me how to play bridge in a Spanish golf clubhouse after torrential rain had cancelled our round! Absolute gent and thoughts with his family.”
The Test hero played a key part in what became known as “Botham’s Ashes” when his aggressive bowling saw him take 8-43 in the memorable third Test at Headingley that was won from a seemingly-impossible position.
Willis was named in England’s greatest ever Test XI by the England Cricket Board last year.
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He later worked as a commentator for Sky Sports, often alongside Botham.Born in Sunderland, his family moved to Surrey in his childhood and he went on to start his professional career playing for the county.
The bowler spent a further 12 years at Warwickshire before retiring in 1984.Willis married wife Juliet in 1980 and they had one daughter, Katie, born in 1984.
He took 899 first-class wickets in his career, despite spending much of his later playing days in chronic pain because of surgery on both knees.
Bob Willis being presented with the series trophy after Test victory against New Zealand at Trent Bridge[/caption]
Bob Willis became one of England’s greatest ever bowlers[/caption]
He was known for his aggressive bowling style[/caption]
Bob after Test victory against Pakistan in 1982[/caption]