Sky Sports have ruthlessly sacked one of their longest-serving presenters after staggering comments he made off-microphone.
Bob Willis has been the star of Sky’s The Verdict for several years, becoming a firm favourite with fans for his withering putdowns and relentless criticism of players.
But a tape obtained by The Wisden Cricketer reveals another side to the former Warwickshire legend, in which he says: “It wasn’t too bad a shot, the batsman was just unlucky.”
And Willis then followed up this uncharacteristically mild reaction by not adding insult to injury with: “That’s cricket – everyone makes mistakes, I know I did, and so did my team-mates.”
Stunned Charles Colville attempted to cover up the gaffe by saying: “Do you think he should be beaten with sticks for edging that 90mph leg-cutter to slip, Bob?” and Willis did recover composure enough to say, “worse than that, Charles, after that thin edge, I would like to see his entire family attacked by wild dogs and made to move to Stoke-on-Trent for the rest of their lives.”
But the damage had been done, and it was immediately clear that Willis’ position had become untenable.
A Sky source said: “Nobody could believe their ears when they heard Bob say that. It’s totally out of character – he’s normally so relentlessly mean about the players.
“Frankly, you just don’t expect this sort of thing from a professionally cantankerous ex-pro.”
Fans of the cricket review show were also furious about the ex-England man’s extraordinary non-outburst.
“I pay my Sky subscription and I expect to hear Bob Willis moaning and carping about the slightest, tiniest mistake made by any player under any circumstance, ever,” said viewer Frank Gill of Roehampton. “This is a disgrace – if I wanted to hear this sort of even-handed assessment of a key passage of play I could go up the pub.”
Some fans speculated on Twitter that Willis might be the victim of a media conspiracy after the former England skipper was seen not reading a copy of the News Of The World while using a mobile phone on a train last year. But many more were simply furious at how Willis had personally betrayed each one of them.
“Disgraceful, who does he think he is?” tweeted KennyKing. “Next he’ll be saying that bowlers shouldn’t be flogged to death for the occasional no-ball. Where will it end?”
This is not the first scandal for the Sky Sports cricket team, who found themselves in hot water with Ofcom earlier in the year after a raft of complaints about comments made by Nick Knight. The media regulator found that: “Co-commentator Knight quite clearly expressed an opinion about the game, without sitting on the fence.”
However, Ofcom did accept that this had been an isolated incident and praised Knight’s “blameless record of hemming and hawing”.
Willis was said to be privately devastated at having let his guard slip in this way.
A friend of the lanky former paceman said: “Bob can’t believe a throwaway non-miserable remark has been picked up like this and cost him the job he hates. He knows he has so much more spleen to vent. He’s determined that heads will have to roll.”