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Legendary England left-arm spinner Derek Underwood dies aged 78

Derek Underwood, 1945-2024
by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Legendary England and Kent left-arm spinner Derek Underwood has died at the age of 78.

Underwood took 297 Test wickets for England across 86 games, in a career spanning 16 years between 1966 and 1982. He was part of the side which secured a famous Test win against Australia at The Oval in 1968, where took 7-50 in the fourth innings. His best figures in an England shirt came in 1975 against Pakistan at Lord’s, where he exploited damp patches on the wicket to take 8-51 in the third innings, becoming the first English bowler to take eight wickets in an innings at Lord’s in 41 years. His nickname ‘Deadly’, given to him by his Kent teammates, was a testament to how effective Underwood was on rain-affected pitches.

He was renowned for the pace with which he bowled the ball, often bowling at speeds around medium pace. The accuracy with which he bowled and the volume of wickets he took put him in the history books as one of England’s best ever spinners. No spinner has more Test wickets for England, with Graeme Swann the closest on 255. Underwood sits sixth on the all-time Test wicket charts for England behind James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman.

Where Underwood’s numbers bare very little comparison is in first-class cricket. Playing for Kent for the entirety of his domestic career, he made his first team debut aged 17 against Yorkshire and went on to become the youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in his debut season. He made over 900 appearances for Kent over three decades, and took 2,523 wickets at an average of 19.04. His 1,000th first-class wicket came when he was just 25 years old, and he took 100 wickets in a season 10 times.

His most memorable performance for Kent was at Hastings in 1973. He ran through Sussex taking eight wickets for nine runs after the Kent side had helped the fire brigade mop up a flooded ground. He received two benefit seasons at Kent for his outstanding services to the club and was awarded an MBE in 1981.

Underwood retired from cricket in 1987, having won three County Championships, two One Day Cups, three National Leagues and three Benson and Hedges Cups as a Kent player. He went on to become president of the MCC in 2008, and was inducted into the ICC’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

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