Derek Underwood MBE: 1945-2024

Kent and England cricketer Derek Underwood has passed away.

The England and Wales Cricket Board is saddened to learn of the death of former Kent and England bowler Derek Underwood MBE, aged 78.

A famed left-arm spinner, Underwood’s accuracy and pace were his two stand-out attributes – attributes that helped him become England Men’s most prolific spin bowler in Test cricket.

Nicknamed ‘Deadly’, he was - in the right conditions, and most specifically on a damp wicket - virtually guaranteed a hatful of wickets.

Across a 16-year Test career (1966-82), Underwood’s potency brought him 297 wickets at an average of just 25.83. His figures in the domestic game were even better – 2,465 wickets for an average of just 20 runs each. Only thirteen men have ever taken more first-class wickets.

But even those figures do not do justice to the fear and torment he instilled in the batters facing him at the crease. Current MCC President and broadcaster Mark Nicholas described two of Deadly’s deliveries on a wet Canterbury pitch as “really quite evil” and “absurd”. He wrote: “It was a kind of magic, beautiful in its performance, brutal in its effect, irresistible in its result.”

Derek Underwood MBE: 1945-2024

Underwood wasn’t a player who had to learn his craft and wait for greatness later in his career. He was only 25 years old when he claimed his 100th Test wicket and 1,000th first-class wicket. And six times he took 10 wickets in a Test match.

From his Test debut against West Indies in June 1966, Underwood quickly established his credentials as a master of his art.

In 1968, he took the last four Australian wickets in 27 balls of the fifth Ashes Test. In 1969, he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year and started a four-year reign as the number 1 ranked bowler in the ICC Test rankings. Had he not joined World Series Cricket in 1977, his final Test haul would have undoubtedly been higher. 

Such was Underwood’s impact and influence that in 1981 he was appointed an MBE, in 2009 he served as President of the MCC, and in the same year he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. 

ECB Chair Richard Thompson said: “It is always a sad day when a great of the English game passes away. 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.

“To this day, there will still be the odd mention of Derek Underwood when conditions – especially in club cricket – become damp and perhaps suited to some accurate and pacey spin, and there’s no greater legacy than remaining part of the game long after you’ve finished playing. Our thoughts are with Derek’s friends and family, everyone at Kent CCC, and everyone who knew and loved him.”