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Former England spinner Underwood passes away

Source: PTI
April 15, 2024 20:02 IST
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IMAGE: Derek Underwood passed away at Kent on Monday, April 15. Photograph: Sporting Pictures/Reuters

Derek Underwood, England's best spinner in the post-World War II era, who gave a torrid time to the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, passed away at Kent on Monday. He was 78.

Underwood, a practitioner of slow left-arm orthodox spin, was highly regarded by his contemporaries because of his pin-point accuracy, something which made him 'Deadly' on uncovered pitches of the 60s and 70s.


The Bromley-man had numbers to match his reputation too -- 297 wickets from 86 Tests, the most by an England spinner, and in a First-Class career that spanned 24 years he took 2,465 wickets.

But the numbers told only a part of the story. One of Underwood's finest moments on the field came in 1977 when he took 29 wickets to help England beat India 3-1 in a five-match series.

It was the Three Lions' first series win on these shores since their victory in the 1933-34 tour under the legendary Douglas Jardine.

Hedley Verity, another crafty left-arm spinner, was the architect of that triumph, taking 24 wickets across three Tests.

Four decades down the line, Underwood kept the legacy of Verity intact in the company of pacer John Lever, who took 24 wickets to support his spin colleague ably.

It was a wonderful effort from Underwood against a set of Indian batsmen, led by the inimitable Gavaskar, whom he had dismissed 12 times in Test cricket, the most by any bowler.

Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan and West Indian fast-bowling legend Michael Holding had dismissed the 'Little Master' 11 times each in the longest format.

Gavaskar too had admitted Underwood's grip on him.

"It was tough to face Underwood in any conditions. He was so accurate and bowled on the stumps.

"Since he had this ability to bowl quick when he wanted, you had to be in position very early to play the shots. He was the toughest bowler I faced along with Andy Roberts," Gavaskar had mentioned recently.

Though primarily a bowler, Underwood was also a gritty lower-order batter who put his body on the line against some of the fiercest pacers of his time, particularly while coming down as a nightwatchman.

There were also streaks of controversies in Underwood's career as he had forfeited two years of his Test career to play in the Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and later he was banned for touring South Africa with the England rebel team in 1981.

Much after his playing days, Underwood, who was also a successful businessman as a retailer for roll-in pitches, also dabbled with administration, serving as the MCC president for a year in 2008.

But for an older generation, Underwood's craft will remain beautiful in execution and deadly in its effect.

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