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I read somewhere that Jimmy Greaves could be man of the match having kicked the ball three times - two goals and the kickoff, no need to launder the shirt and shorts.

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Was there ever a sight more fluidly elegant than Lillee in his run-up?

 

On a par with Nijinsky the racehorse and well superior to Nijinsky the ballet guy.

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Underwood in action at Edgbaston during the West Indies Tour of England, 1973

 

 

 

Derek Underwood obituary: Spin bowler considered one of England’s all-time greats

Nicknamed Deadly, he had a unique style that made him almost unplayable

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The Times

Monday April 15 2024, 2.30pm, The Times

 

Derek Underwood obituary: Spin bowler considered one of England’s all-time greats (thetimes.co.uk)

 

Fresh-faced, courteous and polite to a fault, Derek Underwood appeared to be too nice a man to excel against rough-hewn Australians and bouncer happy West Indians in the cauldron of Test cricket. This was deceptive. Geoffrey Boycott, his longstanding England team-mate, described him as having “the face of a choirboy, the demeanour of a civil servant — and the ruthlessness of a rat catcher”.

Indeed, Underwood’s nickname was “Deadly”, bestowed because in helpful conditions he was exactly that. On rain-affected pitches his sharp left-arm cutters, delivered from a flat-footed run at near medium pace and allied with metronomic accuracy, made him almost unplayable. Even on placid pitches his immaculate control and subtle variations of line and length could frustrate and undermine the best batsmen.

Although he possessed great determination and pride in performance, both for himself and for his county and country — and would glare at fielders if the batsman pinched a single — Underwood’s personal ambitions were confined to his own game. “Why do so many players want to be captain?” he asked plaintively. Cricket politics were not for him and his essential decency was such that he tended not to take sides in disagreements. The ability to bowl came so naturally that if he fretted over any aspect of his profession, it was whether he could cope in retirement.

 

Given that he was a world-class cricketer, Underwood was woefully underpaid. This resulted in his joining the two highly contentious breakaway events of his era: Kerry Packer’s World Series and a tour to South Africa in 1982. Both were unofficial and, because he was so highly regarded, Underwood gave them some respectability. This did not prevent the authorities from implementing lengthy bans, which curtailed his England appearances.

Underwood and Alan Knott, his Kent and England wicket-keeper with whom he formed a telepathic understanding, were initially both sacked by their county for joining Packer, a decision which Les Ames, their former cricket manager and mentor, described as “repugnant and distasteful”. Until their retirements in the mid-1980s they were not even consulted over changes of captaincy at Canterbury: county committees were omnipotent.

 

Derek Leslie Underwood was born in Bromley, Kent. He was given an early taste of cricket from his father, a useful club bowler, who was so determined that he and his older brother, Keith, should take up the game that he built a net in his garden. Derek’s ability soon emerged. At Dulwich College Preparatory School he took nine wickets for ten runs in an under-tens match and continued to shine at Beckenham and Penge Grammar School, making 96 in a match against the staff and taking all ten wickets against a rival school.

He was recommended to Kent after attending a cricket school in Croydon, where he was coached by two England players, Ken Barrington and Tony Lock. He had started as a quick bowler but realised he would be more effective if he reduced his pace. He took easily to spin. At 16 he was in Kent’s second XI, taking nine wickets against Hampshire in his first match. He was only 17 when he made his first-class debut in 1963, taking four wickets against a strong Yorkshire side, and he went on to top 100 wickets for the season, the youngest player to do so.

 

His arm ball, which dipped in to the right-hander, won many lbw decisions. He was the outstanding English spin bowler of his era and, with the arguable exception of Jim Laker, the finest to emerge since the Second World War. His 86 Tests brought him 297 wickets at a respectable average of 25.83, and he would have taken many more had he not decided to join Packer and tour South Africa.

A tail-end batsman, he was often deployed as an England night watchman and as such showed great courage against the ferocious West Indian pace attack. He was a reliable outfielder who missed little. The supreme professional, he always kept his feelings under control. Even quixotic captaincy decisions, such as not bowling him at the right time in a Lord’s one-day final which Kent narrowly lost, were accepted without complaint or rancour.

At the Oval in 1968 he helped England to a remarkable win against Australia which squared the series. At lunch on the final day Australia were 86 for five and heading for a heavy defeat. A cloudburst then flooded the ground, making further play seem unlikely, but thanks to the valiant mopping up efforts of the ground staff, helped by volunteers from the crowd, the match resumed just before 5pm. Getting the ball to turn and lift from the damp pitch and with every England fielder crouched round the bat, Underwood took four wickets in 27 balls to secure victory with minutes to spare. He finished with seven for 50.

 

From then on, though occasionally left out to make way for an extra seamer or for Norman Gifford, who bowled at a slower pace, he was England’s premier spinner. Shrewd enough to adapt to different conditions, he was often as effective overseas as on English pitches, which would normally be expected to give him more help. In Australia, where he got little turn, he took pace off the ball and relied more on flight.

 

He had some spectacular figures. During the home series against New Zealand in 1969 he had match returns of 11 for 70 at Lord’s and 12 for 101 at the Oval. In New Zealand in 1971 his 12 for 98 at Christchurch included his 1,000th first-class wicket. He was 25 and only George Lohmann and Wilfred Rhodes had reached the landmark younger. On a rain-affected pitch at Lord’s in 1974 he had a spell of six wickets for two runs as Pakistan collapsed from 192 for three to 226 all out.

 

In 1977 he was one of the first batch of England players to be recruited for Packer. This dismayed some admirers and he admitted that the decision had been a painful one to make. Indeed, he, along with Colin Cowdrey, his Kent and sometime England captain with whom he had an excellent relationship, had been lone voices in saying they would be prepared to play an additional Test match on the 1970-71 tour of Australia without extra remuneration. But cricketers, even established Test players, were not well paid and had little security. A generous contract with Packer was too good to turn down and offered Underwood and his family a chance to secure their financial future.

After a High Court decision thwarted an attempt by Lord’s to ban the Packer players from all first-class cricket, Underwood was able to continue playing for Kent, and in 1979 he was restored to the England side. Of the players who had signed for Packer, he missed Test cricket the most. But in March 1982, directly after playing a Test in Sri Lanka, he joined the breakaway tour to South Africa, earning a reported £40,000 for five weeks’ cricket. This time a three-year ban from Tests was unchallenged and it ended Underwood’s international career.

 

He went on playing county cricket until his early forties, retiring at the end of the 1987 season. In all first-class matches he took 2,465 wickets at an average of just over 20, conceding barely two runs an over. His one century came against Sussex at Hastings when he was 39. Appropriately enough, this was on the ground on which he had taken his best figures, nine for 28.

 

Underwood, left, with fellow cricketing heroes Geoffrey Boycott, Bob Woolmer and Alan Knott

 

Underwood, left, with fellow cricketing heroes Geoffrey Boycott, Bob Woolmer and Alan Knott

NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD

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A superb bowler. I think Wardle and Laker have better Test averages but they played many fewer matches than Underwood which probably helps. Also a lot of his matches were against the West Indies when their batting was unequalled yet I don’t remember him getting flayed.

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6 hours ago, Scott7 said:

Was there ever a sight more fluidly elegant than Lillee in his run-up?

 

On a par with Nijinsky the racehorse and well superior to Nijinsky the ballet guy.

You sound like Hugh McIlvanney. (That's a compliment by the way.)

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21 minutes ago, alexscottislegend said:

You sound like Hugh McIlvanney. (That's a compliment by the way.)

Thanks but in my entire life I might have written about four lines that McIlvanney could have written in four minutes and then thrown in the wastepaper basket.

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