A ‘slow’ left-arm spinner of more like medium pace, Derek Underwood’s international career lasted from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s.
He was the leading spin bowler in England for two decades, forming a deadly combination with wicket-keeper Alan Knott both at Test and county level. A precocious talent, he took 100 wickets for Kent in 1963 at the age of 17, the youngest to do so in first-class cricket. He captured his 1,000th first-class wicket aged just 25, and took 1,000 wickets in a season 10 times, notably 157 in 1966. He was the leading bowler in England on four occasions: 1966, 1967, 1978 and 1979. In nine Test Matches at Lord’s, he took 38 wickets at 16.92, claiming four five-wicket hauls and becoming the only bowler in history to take 10 wickets in a Test Match at Lord’s twice. His first Test at the Home of Cricket was against Australia in 1968, when he bowled a wonderful spell of 18-15-8-2 as England pressed for an unlikely victory. The following year he succeeded in bowling England to victory against New Zealand with figures of 31-18-32-7, part of an 11-wicket match haul. He did better still against Pakistan in 1974; hauls of 5 for 20 and 8 for 51 bringing him match figures of 13 for 71, the third best in Lord’s history.
Against Pakistan Underwood was – according to Richie Benaud – “as close to unplayable as you’ll see.” Conditions may have been favourable – and Underwood often found credit that should have been his own going to a ‘sticky’ wicket – but his 13 wickets were those of batsmen well-accustomed to the spinning ball and were taken over a period of three days. No sticky wicket ever lasted that long. His first innings figures of 14-8-20-5 ripped the heart out of Pakistan’s batting. Few of them could lay a bat on him, and when Wasim Raja tried to hit him for a straight six, he fell to a stunning catch in front of the sightscreen by Tony Greig.
His bowling in Pakistan’s second innings was even more spectacular. Underwood bagged the first two wickets, then after Wasim Raja and Mushtaq Mohammed staged a recovery, he demolished them, pitching them from a comfortable 192 for 3 to 226 all out. In one 51-ball sequence, he took 6 for 2. His final figures of 34.5-17-51-8 are testament to one of the most brilliant bowling performances ever seen at Lord’s.