Derek Underwood, the most prolific spin bowler in England’s Test history, has died at the age of 78.

Underwood, affectionately known as ‘Deadly’, claimed 297 scalps in 86 Test appearances with his brisk left-arm spin, as well as another 32 in ODIs.

Known as a master of damp, uncovered pitches, the Kent stalwart first played for his country as a 21-year-old in 1966 and made his final appearance in 1982.

PA graphic
PA graphic

His record tally would have been even higher had it not been for his decision to play in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and the first rebel tour of South Africa, but he still sits 42 wickets ahead of his nearest rival among spinners, Graeme Swann.

In a statement paying homage to Underwood’s achievements, England and Wales Cricket Board 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.”

A one-club man, Underwood played over 900 times for Kent across three decades and claimed a staggering 2,523 wickets along the way.

“The Kent Cricket family is in mourning following the passing of one of its greatest ever players,” said chair Simon Phillip.

“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 whilst protecting our sport’s rich 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 England captain Michael Atherton feels Underwood would be “held to be England’s best spinner”, albeit having played under different conditions to the modern game.

Derek Underwood
Known as a master of damp, uncovered pitches, Derek Underwood claimed 297 scalps in 86 Test appearances (PA)

“On pitches that were drying, from wet to dry, he was said to be near unplayable,” Atherton told Sky Sports.

“You think of spinners being quite slow and flighty, but because of the conditions that were pertained at the time, particularly the uncovered pitches, he was somebody who had quite a long run-up and bowled in kind of a cutter fashion.

“You speak to someone like Ian Chappell, who would have played against him in the Ashes as an Australian batter and he would say Derek Underwood was amongst the most difficult bowlers that he played against.

“He was very hard to get down the pitch to because he bowled so quickly, so you kind of felt pinned and hemmed to the crease.”

Atherton added: “He is top of the list in terms of leading wicket-takers and I think generally he would be held to be England’s best spinner.

“(It was) different conditions, (he was) a different type of bowler to somebody like Graeme Swann, but if you think of England’s all-time spinners in Test cricket, he is right near the top of the tree.”