Derek Underwood: 1945-2024

Monday 15th April 2024

Kent Cricket

Derek Underwood: 1945-2024

Kent Cricket is in mourning following the death of one of the icons of the Club, Derek Underwood, at the age of 78.

A staunch one-club man, Derek Leslie Underwood was born in Bromley, Kent, on 8 June 1945. In 1963, he made his first-team debut aged 17 against Yorkshire – finishing his first innings as a first-class cricketer with figures of 4-40. He went on to become the youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in his initial season.

He was awarded Kent Men’s Cap number 141 in 1964 on the back of his achievements in his debut year and was named the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year in 1966.

Derek would go on to make over 900 appearances for Kent across three decades, from 1963-1987, taking a remarkable 2,523 wickets at an average of just 19.04.

He captured his 1,000th first-class wicket aged just 25, and took 100 wickets in a season 10 times, notably 157 in 1966. He was the leading bowler in England on four occasions: 1966, 1967, 1978 and 1979.

According to Wisden, no nickname was better earned than the “Deadly” which Derek’s Kent teammates 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 for Kent.

Derek made 86 Test appearances for his country after making his debut against the West Indies at Trent Bridge in July 1966, taking 297 wickets for England at an average of 25.83. He is England’s sixth-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and is still the leading spinner in the list.

In One-Day International cricket, the left-armer made 26 appearances during the emergence of shorter formats of the game, taking 32 wickets at 22.93.

His wizardry brought England one of the most dramatic wins in the history of Tests when, with six minutes left against Australia in The Oval Ashes Test of 1968, he took his fourth wicket in 27 balls. It 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. Following on from his stellar appearances in the Test arena that year, he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1969.

According to the retrospective ICC Men’s Test Bowler rankings, Derek Underwood was ranked Number One in the world from September 1969 to August 1973.

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 received two benefit seasons at Kent Cricket for his outstanding service to the Club, in 1975 and 1986 respectively, and was awarded an MBE for services to cricket in the New Year’s Honours list of 1981.

Derek retired from the game in 1987, having won three County Championships, two One-Day Cups, three National Leagues and three Benson & Hedges Cups as a Kent cricketer.

He was named President of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 2008, after serving as Kent Cricket’s Club President in 2006, and was inducted into the ICC’s Cricket Hall of Fame in 2009.

In 2011, the Annexe Stand at The Spitfire Ground St Lawrence was renamed the ‘Underwood & Knott Stand’ in recognition of his exploits for the county and highlighting the inspired partnership that he enjoyed for both Kent and England with another icon of the Club, Alan Knott.

Kent Cricket’s Chair, Simon Philip, said: “The Kent Cricket family is in mourning following the passing of one of its greatest ever players.

“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. His induction into the ICC Hall of Fame shows the esteem in which he was held in world cricket.

“An advocate for growing our game worldwide whilst protecting our sport’s rich heritage, Derek also made substantial contributions off the field as well as on it, and he will be sorely missed by everyone at Kent Cricket.”

The thoughts of everyone at Kent Cricket are with Derek’s friends and family at this sad time.