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    5. Derek Underwood was the silent killer of English cricket – ..


    Derek Underwood was the silent killer of English cricket – I loved him dearly.

    Geoffrey Boycott (centre) and Derek Underwood (right) were England mainstays in the 1960s and 70s. Photo: Getty Images/Patrick Eagar

    Until 1979, we played cricket on open fields – we didn't cover them when it rained. We called them sticky dogs. Derek Underwood was deadly on sticky dog, hence his nickname Lethal!

    I don't know anyone who could play with him or hit him after the rain on those fields. When it rained he was incredible because he bowled a little faster than an orthodox left-hander. Derek didn't so much spin the ball as cut it, and because he was faster and flatter than most slow bowlers, he would come at you and force you to rush every shot.

    Cut the ball deadly along the seam – just like fast bowlers throw out a cut ball. He didn't have to wait for the pitch to start drying out or getting sticky like a normal spinner, his left-handed cutters would grip, turn, bounce and sometimes snatch a chunk out of the pitch. Try playing this. The Australians failed at the Oval in 1968. Derek scored seven for 50 on the final day with brilliant play on the open field to help England secure a draw. It was one of his greatest performances, but there were so many of them that it's hard to pick the best.

    Modern players would try to hit Derek with their big bats, but believe me, they wouldn't stand a chance. Never. He would be too smart and too good for them. And if they tried all those sweeps and reverse sweeps, they would definitely need a helmet with bars, otherwise they might get a slap.

    Nobody ever hit him. Derek was a unique, brilliant, outstanding bowler – unique. There was no one like him in English cricket. The closest was Bob Appleyard in the 1950s, who bowled right-arm on open pitches and took 200 wickets in his first full season. Deadley was left-handed, so he turned the ball the other way – away from right-handers, which was much more dangerous due to the number of right-handed players who could serve the ball.

    Geoff Boycott and Derek Underwood celebrate after England beat Australia at Trent Bridge in 1977. Photo: Colorsport/Shutterstock

    We didn't have speed guns in those days, but Derek was too quick to get down the field.

    Sometimes spin bowlers don't enjoy pressure when all eyes are on directed at them and they are expected to win the match for their team. But when Derek was expected to carry the team and win the match, he was quietly confident that he could get the job done.

    Everyone is under pressure – average players, good players and great players. It's how you handle pressure that matters. Derek can handle this without any problems. That's why he was a great bowler.

    Yorkshire once played Canterbury, playing Kent. It was raining and I went into the dressing room to talk to him because I had played with him a lot for England.

    I said, “I bet you're happy with this rain, you'll take six for forty when we get back.” He said, “Yes, but if it rains for another couple of hours, I'll take eight for 20.” That's what he thought.

    He wasn't a pompous guy. He was a bit quiet and didn't talk much, but Deadly was a silent killer.

    In the dressing room with England, he knew exactly what he wanted to do in training. He came, changed his clothes, and then just wanted to sit quietly before going out for 20-25 minutes with a cup of tea in his right hand and a cigarette in the other and contemplate.

    People always talk about him in wet fields because he was deadly in them. But he could knock you out of the game with a clean sheet because he was so accurate that he gave you nothing. Derek put pressure on the batsmen and prevented them from losing the ball. His bowling was not easy to score, and once the pitch helped him, he became very, very difficult to bowl against.

    Derek Underwood and Geoffrey Boycott (first row from left and second from left) before the fifth Test against Australia at the Oval in 1977. Photo: Getty Images/Bob Thomas

    He didn't have to change his style, even when he was bowling. on good fields. If he needed to, he could bowl a little slower and  20 or 30 overs was never a problem. He had a metronome and excellent concentration.

    Derek loved to bowl with four people spinning around the bat, just like a spider spins a web to catch a fly. And he didn't want you to run to the other end to get a single. If you were a fielder and weren't tense, maybe nodded a little and let the batsman take a quick single, he'd stare at you. He never said anything, but you could tell he was angry.

    The only way Derek could be defeated was when he hit the ball. When he came out to bat, we all got ready to play – he didn't last long. He couldn't hit for the toffee. It would be better for us to announce this before he comes in and save time! He was sent out as a night watchman for a while against very, very fast bowlers and his nerves were frayed.

    Derek was one of the greatest bowlers I have played with, without a shadow of a doubt. He had a rare gift and was a magical bowler. Since then there has been nothing like him.

    I loved him to madness. He was one of my favorite cricketers.


    Derek Underwood, great England and Kent bowler, dies aged 78 years old. Read more

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