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Tributes paid to legendary Kent and England spinner Derek Underwood after his death, aged 78

Kent Cricket is in mourning after the death of one of the club’s icons.

Former England and Kent spinner Derek Underwood has died, aged 78, sparking tributes from across the county, the country and, indeed, globally.

Derek Underwood at the launch of his Testimonial Year at the Mercure Hotel, Hollingbourne, with former Kent spinner James Tredwell. Picture: Chris Davey
Derek Underwood at the launch of his Testimonial Year at the Mercure Hotel, Hollingbourne, with former Kent spinner James Tredwell. Picture: Chris Davey

“The Kent Cricket family is in mourning following the passing of one of its greatest-ever players,” said chairman Simon Phillip as Kent announced his death on Monday.

“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 while protecting our sport’s 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.”

Former Kent and England cricketer Derek Underwood bowling in 1981
Former Kent and England cricketer Derek Underwood bowling in 1981

Kent head coach Matt Walker said: “It goes without saying what a fantastic cricketer he was. One of England’s greatest, obviously one of Kent’s greatest, but for me, my dealings with Derek on a personal level were with someone who was around in the early part of my career.

“He was extremely supportive, always available but never preached, and never told you how to do it. He was always just a really kind man who was always quick with a story. He was really supportive of a lot of young players, not just me, in the early parts of their careers.

“I hadn’t seen Derek for a while and I knew he’d been ill for a little while but certainly (I’ve got) fond memories of Derek as a person. I was a bit young to watch him in action growing up but when anybody joins Kent you are surrounded by that era that was so brilliant. There’s a stand named after him and you’re just aware of what a fantastic cricketer he was.

“When you met him he was so humble, he never talked about how he did it. He was always aware that times were changing, a lot of old cricketers talk about ‘back in my day’ and how it was done but Derek never really did that.

“He was great with a story and loved to talk about experiences but it was never about himself. He was a wonderful man, it’s very sad and he’ll be sorely missed. I’m sure there will be many tributes around the press and social media over the next week or so.”

Mr Underwood made his first-team Kent debut against Yorkshire in 1963, aged 17. He finished his first innings as a first-class cricketer with figures of 4-40.

He went onto 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.

Mr Underwood made more than 900 appearances for Kent across three decades, from 1963 until 1987, taking a remarkable 2,523 wickets at an average of 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.

Min Patel is presented with a silver plate by Derek Underwood at Canterbury’s Spitfire Ground. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Min Patel is presented with a silver plate by Derek Underwood at Canterbury’s Spitfire Ground. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Bromley-born Mr Underwood was the leading bowler in England on four occasions in 1966, 1967, 1978 and 1979.

According to Wisden, no nickname was better earned than the “Deadly” which Mr Underwood’s Kent team-mates conferred on him.

Such was his accuracy and, for a left-arm spinner, pace - either side of medium when the ball was really biting - when conditions favoured him, an avalanche of wickets was almost guaranteed for Kent.

He 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 remains England’s sixth-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and is still the leading spinner in the list.

In One-Day International cricket, Mr Underwood made 26 appearances amid the emergence of shorter formats of the game, as he took 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 victory which squared the series - even though a lunchtime cloudburst had swallowed all but 75 minutes of the last four hours. He was named a Wisden Cricketer-of-the-Year for 1969.

According to the retrospective ICC Men’s Test Bowler rankings, Mr Underwood was ranked No.1 in the world from September 1969 to August 1973.

Mr Underwood also demolished Sussex in Hastings in 1973, taking 8-9 after a bare-footed Kent team helped the Fire Brigade mop up another flooded ground.

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.

Mr Underwood 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 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.

The Annexe Stand at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury, was renamed the “Underwood and Knott stand” in 2011 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.

England Cricket Board’s chairman 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.”

On social media, former England team-mate David Lloyd wrote: “Very sad news.”

Kent T20 Blast skipper Sam Billings said: “A wonderful man who will be sorely missed.

“A true Kent legend!”

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