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The Definitive: Derek Underwood

Ed Kemp by Ed Kemp 15 minute read

England’s most successful spinner ever Derek Underwood talks to Ed Kemp about the defining moments of a ‘Deadly’ career.

FOUR-FER FIRST UP
4-40 & 1-2 | Yorkshire v Kent, County Championship, Hull, 1963

I was pulled out of a match at Tovil and told I was going to Yorkshire to make my county debut. So the next day I got to Euston, met up with the team and got the train up to Hull. The first day was washed out, then the second day I took my first first-class wicket: Ray Illingworth – and I never ceased to remind him about it, because I played a lot with Ray. He’d played Test cricket, so I was delighted getting someone like him out. Caught Baker bowled Underwood. I was 17 and scraped to 100 wickets that season by getting three at Scarborough in a festival game. Nobody even realised I’d got 100 wickets, but I did! I always wanted to play in that festival after that.

THE ENGLAND DEBUT: COMING AROUND
0-5 & 0-86 | England v West Indies, Third Test, Trent Bridge, 1966

I look back and think it probably was too early. When I first played for Kent I bowled round the wicket, and I was told by Les Ames [Kent secretary/manager] and Colin Cowdrey [Kent and England captain] that I should bowl over the wicket. But I wasn’t terribly happy about it, lbws were almost taken away from me. In my first Test match I bowled all my overs over the wicket, and I look back and think how appalling that was! After two Test matches I had bowling figures of 1-170 and bagged a pair in my second Test. I went back to Kent and decided to go back round the wicket, and I had fantastic figures the year I did.

A GRAND DAY OUT AT LORD’S
3-41 | Kent v Somerset, Gillette Cup Final, Lord’s, 1967

It was the first piece of real success that Kent had had. The ground at Lord’s had an atmosphere that day the like of which I don’t think I ever experienced again – perhaps it was because it was the first final I’d ever played in there, and we were both smaller clubs. I’ll never forget these four Somerset lads – members – all dressed in Somerset smocks and carrying this great big barrel of cider on these long poles. It was absolute fun, the atmosphere was something else. It was one of the first real tastes of the big time, I suppose. Kent were becoming a force and in the Seventies we went on to win something nearly every year.

A DEADLY DOZEN
6-12 & 6-85 | New Zealand v England, First Test, Christchurch, 1971

I’d developed a reputation for being ‘deadly’ on a wet wicket and this was another one. It really went. It was Bob Taylor’s first Test match; Knotty [Alan Knott] had been dropped having kept brilliantly during the Ashes win in Australia, but Bob kept beautifully on one that was really difficult to keep on. It would pitch outside leg and fly past the keeper’s right shoulder. It was a really good wicket to bowl on from 11 o’clock in the morning. We bowled them out for 65 and I’d taken 6-12, and then Basil D’Oliveira got a hundred on it, against Hedley Howarth, who was a very high quality bowler. Time and time again Bas came to England’s rescue.

THE FUNGUS AND THE URN
4-37 & 6-45 | England v Australia, Fourth Test, Headingley, 1972

It was what they call the ‘fusarium Test match’ because the pitch had been infected with a fungus after storms a few days earlier – and Australia were distrustful of the surface. We arrived at the ground and were quite surprised, it was quite brownish, but it looked firm enough. It did turn from day one, it just held up – it was a good one to bowl on. Ray Illingworth was as mean as I was, we worked in harness together – we’d go seven or eight overs without giving away a run – and it was our performance in the first innings that set up the victory, which meant we retained the Ashes. The game was over in three days which meant we had to report back to our counties for John Player matches on the Sunday!

NIGHTWATCHMAN OF STEEL
2-54 & 2-63 and 25 & 30 | Australia v England, First Test, Brisbane, 1974

It was the toughest tour I’ve known for the batter. And I got some runs! Which I was quite pleased about – I got some on a really tough pitch at Brisbane, which Tony Greig, god bless him, got a hundred on. I got to 25 and [Dennis] Lillee and Thommo [Jeff Thomson] had been taken off, Doug Walters came on and I pushed hard at the ball and got caught cover, first ball. I couldn’t believe it. I played so early, after those two it was like playing an off spinner. I was out as nightwatchman during that series and Lillee gave me a particularly hard time out there. Nightwatchman was part of what I had to do in my career – I enjoyed it. And Tony Greig was very keen on me doing it. Frightening sometimes, though.

ENGLAND’S END
5-28 & 3-67 | Sri Lanka v England, Only Test, Colombo, 1982

My Test career finished because I ended up going to South Africa [on a rebel tour in 1981]. I was 36, so it was a fairly easy decision for me to make. I was banned for five years and I never made it back. But it gave me the opportunity to play for Kent and enjoy it at the end of my career. My last match was the first Test England ever played against Sri Lanka. I got five in the first innings, then John Emburey got six in the second.

A GOLDEN GROUND
111 | Sussex v Kent, County Championship, Hastings, 1984

Hastings, the Sussex outground, was an incredible ground for me, everything turned to gold there. It was the very first county ground I ever played on, remarkably, for Kent juniors, I got 4-40 in that. Then there was my best bowling performance, 9-28, on a dry, dusty one, in 1964. In 1973 I took 8-9, on a wet one. That was unplayable! Our players were out there mopping up the ground, I’ve got a picture of Bob Woolmer digging the outfield. It was ridiculous really. Out of that 8-9, the wicketkeeper darted down the pitch and hit me back over my head for four. I also got my one and only hundred there. I’d got 6-12 in the one-day game on the Sunday and then got my hundred on the Monday, having come in as nightwatchman on the Saturday. That’s just ridiculous, isn’t it? And the match ended in a tie. It was a great thrill to make a hundred. I’d got 80 at Old Trafford against Lancashire years and years before. Before the end of my career it was nice to get something out of the ordinary.

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