1. Home
  2. /

  3. /

    Derek Underwood always gave his maximum effort
Derek Underwood always gave his maximum effort
Derek Underwood. Source: Cricket365

Derek Underwood always gave his maximum effort

Derek Underwood once characterised himself as a "simple-minded bowler." This humble statement was typical of England's most successful spin bowler in Test cricket, with 297 wickets to his name.

Despite his impressive achievements, you wouldn't have guessed his stature when encountering him at the bar after a match against Kent. With a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he wore that self-deprecating smile on his face. He was always ready to discuss cricket, particularly spin bowling, often seeking the opinions of others as if they knew more than him (which was absurd). He was the complete opposite of the stereotypical international superstar athlete until he began his run-up with his feet positioned at 10 minutes to two.

The mention of his "simple-minded" approach partly explains his success. Underwood was, in fact, an independent thinker. It came naturally to him to bowl faster than his peers, but importantly, he had the wisdom not to alter his style. He generally avoided the fancy variations that armchair pundits and a few old coaches desired. Instead, he would consistently trundle up to the crease like a metronome and deliver the ball on a length around the off-stump at his own pace.

Derek Underwood play. Source: The Guardian
Derek Underwood play. Source: The Guardian

Career Highlights

The statistics are equally impressive, with Underwood achieving 2,465 wickets in first-class cricket (along with 572 in List A cricket) after reaching the milestone of 1,000 wickets at the age of 25. He also accomplished the feat of taking 100 wickets in a county season 10 times, the first of which occurred when he made his debut at the age of 17. During his time at Kent, he secured three County Championships, three John Player League titles, two Gillette Cups, and three Benson & Hedges Cups.

On damp pitches, Underwood was incredibly difficult to play against, but on dry surfaces, he would often deliver the ball slightly quicker and flatter, as he didn't want to risk being hit over his head, which he always disliked.

Remarkably, at the age of 39, Underwood achieved his first and only century in first-class cricket, scoring 111 runs. This milestone came in his 591st first-class match in July 1984, which took place at Hastings, a favoured bowling location for Underwood. He had gone in to bat as a nightwatchman and finally reached the hundredth run in his 618th first-class innings. Colin Bateman, a cricket writer, observed that it was a highly celebrated century that summer.

Underwood decided to retire from cricket in 1987, at the age of 42, having amassed a total of 2,465 wickets at an average of slightly over 20 runs per wicket.

Derek Underwood. Source: Kent Online
Derek Underwood. Source: Kent Online

A Strong Character

Yet, the numbers alone do not fully capture Underwood's excellence. It was not just about the quantity, but also the manner in which he excelled. Underwood's left-arm finger spin, delivered with a lengthy run-up and at a brisk, almost medium pace, relied on precise accuracy and the ability to exploit even the slightest hint of assistance.

Underwood's robust stamina allowed him to consistently bowl maiden after maiden, and his determination to suffocate his opponents was evident. In 2017, Geoffrey Boycott wrote, “He hated it when a batsman pinched a single because a fielder was nodding off. He would glare at you. Derek had such a strong mind, he could bowl to win matches or tie up an end.”

Derek admitted that he avoided excessive experimentation. Mike Brearley has described how he occasionally tried to persuade Underwood to bowl slower under certain conditions, or maybe change his angle when bowling to right-handed batsmen. But, Underwood was reluctant to do so, although he may have followed his captain's advice dutifully for a while. Such plans rarely yielded positive results.

When facing Underwood on true pitches, you would wonder where the next run would come from. On drying wickets in the era of uncovered wickets, you knew your time was limited. The ball would dart down, bouncing and spinning, and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable occurred. The amiable Alan Knott stood behind the stumps, smiling knowingly because he too understood that it was only a matter of time. There was no escape.

All the captains who had Underwood on their team greatly appreciated his presence. He would tirelessly bowl for extended periods without any complaints, consistently providing control over the game and the possibility of taking wickets. Even towards the end of his professional career, when he was well into his 40s, he remained as determined and dedicated as ever. He continued to give his all, sweating profusely in his worn-out cricket attire, feeling frustrated if he conceded any easy runs, and eagerly striving to claim another wicket for his beloved Kent. Regardless of the situation, he always exerted himself fully.

Furthermore, his unwavering commitment was exemplified in his batting. While not particularly talented in this aspect, he managed to achieve a wonderful feat by scoring a century in a first-class match against Sussex in 1984, bringing joy to everyone. However, his true bravery shone through. In an era prior to the use of helmets, he consistently took on the challenging role of a nightwatchman for England, facing formidable bowlers like Andy Roberts and Michael Holding from the West Indies, as well as Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson from Australia. While many others would shy away from such a responsibility, Underwood, devoid of ego and possessing a tremendous spirit, never hesitated to step up when the captain sought a "volunteer."

Get the latest news to your inbox.

Subscribe to the newsletter

We value your privacy and promise not to distribute your email to third parties.