Cricket lost “a dear friend” on Wednesday after former England captain Bob Willis passed away in Wimbledon.

The pace bowler, who played 90 Tests for England and became a popular figure in broadcasting following his retirement in 1984, was 70.

It is understood Willis, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, had begun to deteriorate in health over the last two months, with a recent scan revealing the cancer had advanced.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement: “The ECB is deeply saddened to say farewell to Bob Willis, a legend of English cricket, at the age of 70.

“Bob spearheaded the England bowling attack for more than a decade and took 325 Test wickets.

“He will always be remembered for his outstanding cricket career, in particular his eight for 43 in the dramatic Headingley Test victory over Australia in 1981.

“In later years as a broadcaster Bob was a perceptive and respected voice at the microphone. We are forever thankful for everything he has done for the game.

“Everyone at the ECB sends sincere condolences to his family. Cricket has lost a dear friend.”

Willis remains England’s fourth highest wicket-taker of all time and his most famous moment as a player came in that remarkable third Ashes Test at Headingley.

Ian Botham’s innings of 149 had helped set Australia a target of just 130 to win when Willis produced the performance of his life to secure an improbable 18-run victory.

It is understood Botham went to see his former team-mate earlier this week, with fellow former England players John Lever, David Brown and Paul Allott visiting on Wednesday.

Allott told Sky Sports News: “I was there when Bob passed away with Lauren his wife and daughter in Wimbledon this afternoon.

“It was a peaceful passing but it was obviously a hugely emotional moment.

“We’ve known each other for more than 40 years. We played together. He was my first vice-captain for England and he took me under his wing in India.

“Beneath that quite stern exterior that he portrayed on Sky Sports there was a heart of gold.

“He was an extremely kind and gentle individual and we became the very best of friends.

“Not only did we play together but we worked in the commentary box together where I probably had the best part of 20 to 25 years with him. We had an absolutely wonderful time. Bob was such a sweet, sweet guy.”

Former England batsman David Gower told BBC Radio 5 live: “I toured with him as a captain and I took over the captaincy from him and then had him as what was called in those days as an assistant manager. He was a very loyal friend and a loyal supporter.”

Ex-England fast bowler Darren Gough said on TalkSport: “As a player he had a big heart, he’d run in, nearly 6ft 6ins, and hit the pitch hard. At his peak was one of the best three bowlers in the world.

“He was hugely admired all around the world. Everybody knew who he was.”

A number of current England players paid tributes to Willis throughout the day.

Captain Joe Root wrote: “A true England great. Fantastic player, pundit and a lovely man with a great sense of humour. Love to all his close family and friends as well.”

James Anderson, one of the three players to take more wickets than Willis for England, wrote: “Incredibly sad to hear the news about Bob Willis. He was a true great, generous in sharing his knowledge about the game and a lovely man.”

Former New Zealand cricketer Sir Richard Hadlee said Willis was “one of the great fast-bowlers of his time”.

“As a batsman, you always knew you were in a contest when you were facing Bob; he just kept coming at you.

“He had one of the longest run-ups in international cricket – a long, angled approach that brought him to the wicket upright and front-on, and perfectly balanced to bowl with the signature pace and bounce for which he was renown,” said Hadlee.

International Cricket Council chief executive Manu Sawhney said in a statement: “We are extremely sad to hear of Bob’s death and I would like to extend deep condolences to his family on behalf of the ICC.

“Bob was one of the biggest cricket heroes of his time, a fast bowler respected the world over. He led the England bowling attack with aggression and the sight of him charging in to bowl is entrenched in the minds of people who watched cricket in the 1970s and 80s.”

Willis’ family said in a statement: “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.

“Bob is survived by his wife Lauren, daughter Katie, brother David and sister Ann.

“The Willis family has asked for privacy at this time to mourn the passing of a wonderful man and requests that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to Prostate Cancer UK.”