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Bob Willis wrote himself into English sporting folklore on a single day in 1981.

At 32 and having just recovered from knee surgery, he went into the third Ashes Test at Headingley knowing his international career was fast approaching a crossroads.

The seeds of an unlikely victory had been sewn by a belligerent but seemingly futile innings of 149 not out from Ian Botham, but they reached full bloom in the hands of Willis.

Set just 130 to win, Australia embarked upon its second innings fully expecting to ease its way to victory with the minimum of fuss and, having reached 1-56, was well on course.

It was then that Willis produced the performance of his life, pounding across the West Yorkshire turf in the manner of an enraged bull to blast his way through what remained of the Australian batting line-up to return career-best figures of 8-43 and secure an improbable 18-run victory.



He made his County Championship bow against Yorkshire at Scarborough and continued his education at Trent Bridge, where he took a creditable 5-78 in the first innings against Nottinghamshire, but only after the great Gary Sobers had dented his early return of 4-11.

At the age of 21, he was summoned to Australia to join the England squad for the 1970-71 Ashes series.

Willis made his debut at Sydney as the tourists took a 1-0 lead in the series after the first two Tests had been drawn and the third washed out and he retained his place for the rest of the tour to launch his international career.

Standing at almost two metres and a model of intensity, he was an intimidating sight as he embarked upon his idiosyncratic 30-metre run-in before delivering the ball at menacing pace.

He would play 90 Tests, including a spell as captain and take 325 wickets at an average of 25.20.

After his retirement in 1984 his knowledge and understanding of the game were put to good use in the commentary box, where his no-nonsense assessment and dry wit proved popular.

Willis, who is survived by his second wife Lauren, died on December 4 at the age of 70 after a battle with prostate cancer.