Home » ‘Near unplayable’: English cricket legend Derek Underwood dead at 78

‘Near unplayable’: English cricket legend Derek Underwood dead at 78

Derek Underwood, the most successful spin bowler in England Test cricket history, has died at the age of 78, his former county Kent announced on Monday.

Underwood took 297 wickets in 86 Tests with his distinctive brand of brisk left-arm spin.

He was noted for being particularly effective on uncovered pitches, which were in use for much of a 24-year first-class career that ran from 1963 until 1987.

He famously bowled England to a Test victory over arch rivals Australia at The Oval in 1968 on such a surface, taking 7-50 when a draw had seemed inevitable.

Underwood made his England debut as a 21-year-old in 1966 and played his last Test in 1982.

Together with outstanding wicketkeeper Alan Knott, he formed a celebrated combination for Kent and England.

Both Underwood, affectionately nicknamed “Deadly”, and Knott might have achieved even more success for England had they not been involved in Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket of the late 1970s and a rebel tour of South Africa in 1982.

Even so, Underwood’s tally of Test wickets is 42 more than the next highest by another England spinner, Graeme Swann.

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Former England captain Mike Atherton said Underwood would be “held to be England’s best spinner” even though he faced different conditions from modern bowlers, who play on covered pitches and have the benefit of the decision review system in international games.

“On pitches that were drying, from wet to dry, he was said to be near unplayable,” Atherton told Sky Sports.

“You think of spinners being quite slow and flighty, but because of the conditions that pertained at the time, particularly the uncovered pitches, he was somebody who had quite a long run-up and bowled in a kind of a cutter fashion.

“You speak to someone like Ian Chappell, who would have played against him in the Ashes as an Australian batter, and he would say Derek Underwood was amongst the most difficult bowlers that he played against.”

England bowler Derek ”Deadly” Underwood in action, 1972.Source: News Limited

Derek Pringle, a former England all-rounder who played against Underwood for Essex, posted on Twitter: “Very saddened to hear of Derek Underwood’s passing — a superb spin and cut bowler and an unassuming England and Kent legend. I once faced him on a ‘turner’ at Folkestone and there was only one Deadly Derek and it wasn’t me.”

After his playing career was over, Underwood served as president of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the owners of London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground, for an annual term in 2009, and was inducted into the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame.

England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Richard Thompson said: “Derek Underwood will be remembered as one of the finest spin bowlers this country has ever produced and his remarkable record is testament to his enduring skill.”

Kent chairman Simon Philip said: “Derek was an outstanding contributor to both Kent and England, winning trophies for club and country and etching his name in the history books forevermore.

“Watching Derek weave his unique magic on a wet wicket was a privilege for all who were able to witness it.”