Derek Leslie Underwood
June 08, 1945, Bromley, Kent
Also Known As
Right hand bat
Slow left arm orthodox
No nickname was better earned that the "Deadly" which Derek Underwood's Kent team-mates conferred on him for the havoc he caused on rain-affected pitches. Such was his accuracy and, for a left-arm spinner, pace - either side of medium when the ball was really biting - that when conditions favoured him an avalanche of wickets was almost guaranteed. His wizardry brought England one of the most dramatic wins in the history of Tests when, with six minutes left against Australia at The Oval in 1968, he took his fourth wicket in 27 balls. That clinched a 226-run win which squared the series, even though a lunchtime cloudburst which flooded the ground had swallowed all but 75 minutes of the last four hours. In similar circumstances at Hastings in 1973, Underwood demolished Sussex by taking 8 for 9 after a bare-footed Kent team helped the Fire Brigade mop up another flooded ground. Underwood's accuracy, intelligence and patience meant he was always a blessing to his captains. He adapted to conditions overseas, especially in Australia, by dropping his pace, and might have added 50-100 wickets to his England haul of 297 but for joining World Series Cricket in 1977, then the disapproved tour of South Africa in 1981-82. A game nightwatchman and a workmanlike outfielder, he was as unaffectedly pleasant at the end of his career as when, in 1963, he became the youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in his initial season. In 2008, he was unveiled as the new President of MCC on a one-year term. John Thicknesse
Wisden Sporting Heroes Derek Leslie Underwood was born in Bromley, Kent on June 8 1945. A left arm slow bowler he made his debut for Kent at age 17 and became the youngest player in history to take 100 first-class wickets in his first season. He achieved this feat on 9 further occasions in a county career spanning 25 years, and in 1966 took a remarkable 157 wickets. He was chosen for England against the West Indies, when just 21 years old and went on to play 86 tests, despite interrupting his international career to play world series cricket and terminating it with a disapproved trip to South Africa. His 297 Test wickets are included in a career total of 2465 taken at just 20 runs apiece. He was awarded the MBE in 1981.
To describe Derek Underwood as a slow bowler, or simply a spinner is to give a false picture of a unique performer. Much of his bowling was delivered at a respectable medium pace, and always off a plodding run-up of ten yards or so. When conditions were right he would turn the ball extravagantly, but on good pitches, against good players, he would still take plentiful wickets through his unfailing accuracy. Batsmen, infuriated or entranced by the unhittable length and line firing at them with the remorseless regularity of a bowling machine, would very often commit cricketing suicide in their frustration.
Underwood was at his most effective on the uncovered English pitches of the sixties and early seventies. On a "sticky dog" the cricket slang for a pich affected by rain he could be unplayable. Full covering failed to thwart him, however, and both in county and Test cricket he maintained a high success rate through his dedicated attention to detail. A bad delivery from Underwood was a rarity and the anguish over it would be etched on his expression. Although sometimes accused of bowling, a negative, flat trajectory, when conditions demanded something more flighted, Underwood was a master of variations of pace and slight shifts in angle. He won countless lbw victims with the ball which swung in to the right hander, "with the arm".
Underwood's most memorable triumph of many in his long career, was to retrieve the series against Australia. It had seemed hopelessly lost. The circumstances of the story are extraordinary and the fact that they could not be repeated now makes it a tale worth retelling.
It was 1968 and England captained by Colin Cowdrey had lost the first test to Bill Lawry's Australians and then drawn the next three. Underwood, who did not play in the defeat, bowled creditably in each succeeding game, but his hour of glory arrived literally at the last gasp. The final Test, played as tradition demands at the Oval, had been dictated by England. They had gained a first innings lead of 170 and, although England were dismissed the second time around for 181, Australia looked doomed when they went into lunch on the fifth day at 86 for 5. Their salvation seemed to arrive with a violent thunderstorm, which left the pitch and surrounds completely flooded. Further play looked to be out of the question but when the sun appeared, the groundstaff were joined by volunteers from the crowd in a frantic mopping-up operation. To Australia's dismay, the game resumed at 4.45 p.m. England had 15 minutes plus a final, desperate hour, in which to take the 5 wickets and square the series. For 40 minutes they were denied. Then, with time and hope fast diminishing, D'Olivera made the breakthrough. It was now 110 for 6. Half an hour later Australia were all out for 125, Underwood having taken the remaining four wickets to clinch the victory with just 5 minutes to spare. Cowdrey had recalled him immediately after the fall of the sixth wicket. Using the unusual conditions brilliantly, Underwood baffled each batsman in turn. Finally with every English fielder camped around the bat, opener John Inverarity, who had batted through the innings for 56, played no shot to Underwood's famous inswining "arm ball", and was out lbw. The crowd celebrated in style while televison viewers could scarcely credit the half hour of gripping sporting drama that they had just witnessed. The Wisden Book of Cricket Heroes - Alan Lee
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