So why did I have to wipe my eyes on learning that Bob Willis had died?
Bob Willis, you ask? Who he?
I know that most, if not all of you, know nothing of and care less for cricket.. a game, at its best, of physical chess, of courage, of grace, of power… a game I have loved since my grandfather took me to The Oval as a child.
Bob Willis was a fast bowler…working mostly unsupported in his era. Most fast bowlers hunt in pairs…he rarely had a worthwhile partner. He was not built for fast bowling…a beanpole of a man with no observable muscle. He had an eccentric action to deliver the ball – described as a goose attempting take off – and knees that gave him continual pain, but between the years 1971 to 1984 he steamed in for his country…six foot six when height was rare among English cricketers the ball was eight feet above the ground when he delivered it, with malice aforethought, to destroy the batsman.
He wasn’t a ‘company man’. As a player and even more so as a broadcaster he cast a cold eye on the situation and told it as he saw it…welcome or not.
Tour South Africa under apartheid? No.
Ostracise those who did? Yes.
Proud to represent his country? Yes.
Gloss over the failings of those who did not pull their weight in the team? No.
His era has gone….cricket is now in the hands of an England and Wales Cricket Board who are running the traditional game into the ground in favour of a hit and giggle formula they can patent and sell abroad.
No more broadcasters like Willis…now they are ‘stakeholders’, pushing the ECB policies to keep their access – and their jobs.
Now he would not get near a Test team. The vast and expensive structures set up to mould future Test players stifle any individuality – have ruined several promising bowlers – and would not have entertained Willis for a moment…as much for his action as his attitude in an era when cricketers too are ‘stakeholders’ and toe the party line.
When you don’t, you get dropped and those players who supported you get dropped with you.
The lack of success of these structures is something to be glossed over, needless to say.
Did I know him? No.
So why was I wiping my eyes?
He was his own man and I don’t see too many of them around these days. Too many ‘stakeholders’…too many bullshitters…..too many observing whatever flavour of political correctness is tops this month…too many mental eunuchs.
I look at the General Election going on in the U.K. with the barefaced lying and blatant media bias and wish for a political commenttor like Willis…facts, not spin….honesty, not deception,…. intelligence, not received message.
Rest in peace, Mr. Willis…the society we knew lies in the grave with you.