Matches (26)
IPL (2)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (1)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
WI 4-Day (4)
CAN T20 (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
ACC Premier Cup (2)
Women's QUAD (2)

Goodbye Deadly, fierce of arm, gentle of heart

The England spinner will be remembered as one who gave his all on and off the pitch

Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas
Joy in the morning: Underwood on the tour of India in 1981  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

Joy in the morning: Underwood on the tour of India in 1981  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

Dear Derek,
I remember first seeing you on television, in black and white. The field was wet and the pitch too but lots of spectators helped to dry it out, and incredibly, play got underway with just enough time left for England to push for a win.
The year was 1968 and, outside of the Beatles and the Stones, you and all the other cricketers of the time were our heroes. It was a big match - England versus Australia at The Oval - and I sat glued to the screen with my pal Jack Newington, both of us ten years old and willing you on.
When Dad came home from work, he couldn't believe the score because when he left the office, it had seemed a certain draw. He arrived in time to see one of David Brown's close catches and then the dramatic moment when you trapped John Inverarity lbw to claim victory with that wicked arm ball of yours. The other players looked happy but didn't leap around the place like they do now. It was altogether more modest then and understated. Mind you, the result was only to draw the series, not to win it. Not that this made much difference to the reaction. I can't imagine Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney and Co leaping around like they'd scored the winner in the FA Cup final, whatever the excitement.
Afterwards we went into the back garden, and Dad, who was a decent right-arm wristspinner, imitated your bowling pretty well, left arm and all. I did a bit of Ian Chappell - collar up, chewing gum - but didn't lay a bat on many. I had a go at copying you too, but the first attempt landed in the neighbour's plot, so I soon switched back to right arm and knocked over Jack, who wasn't much good and left in a huff. Dad said you were a fantastic young bowler who bowled faster than most spinners, and almost cut, rather than spun, the ball. He also showed me how to bowl the arm ball, which was basically seam up with the shinier side set for an inswinger, and released damn fast.
Dad died early that autumn from a heart problem, but his impression of you lives with me to this day. Jack didn't come back to play much, so I spent a lot of time bowling like you against the back wall of our house.
Dad would be astonished to know that I went on to play against you quite a few times. I was always taught to play the ball, not the man. Easier said than done. This was especially so in your case because, before my time, you bowled out Hampshire cheaply on a dry and dusty pitch in the south-west. Barry Richards told me you took 7 for 20, or some such figures, and he has no idea how Hampshire got the 20. If Barry thought that, the rest of us were scuppered.
Derek, you will almost certainly have come across the dystopian novel 1984: a cautionary tale of futurism by George Orwell, frightening in its prediction and accuracy. You were frightening too, if conditions best suited you. And it was in 1984 that you pinned Hampshire to the rope on a wet pitch at Canterbury before battering us into submission. You took seven wickets for 21- and yes, god only knows how we found the 21 - bowling us out for 56 and winning the game at a canter.
I wrote about that game on these pages four years ago. It haunts me still as pieces fly from the pitch and we move from 13 for no wicket to 16 for 4 in 15 extraordinary balls, nine of them bowled by you during which time you spat out four Hampshire batsmen - Paul Terry, Chris Smith, Nicholas, Trevor Jesty - as if they were little more than irritants. A couple of months later you came to Bournemouth and claimed 12 in the match to win it for Kent again. They ask why you're called "Deadly". I've just looked up these games again. You were deadly alright.
Anyway, I'm on this email group called "The Raisers". It was set up by an old mucker and team-mate of yours, Pat Pocock. In short, former first-class cricketers share stories about mates and raise a glass of something to them on their birthdays. Your passing has spawned a long line of terrific tales, happy memories. The overriding emotion is of warmth and love for you - a great cricketer for sure, but a fabulous man too, whose roaring laughter lit up the hours after play and whose morning greeting suggested we were the luckiest people on earth.
In so many ways you were a piece of the past: those ten-to-two feet, them baggy trousers, that long-sleeve flannel shirt rolled to the elbow, your short hair, its side parting (with, briefly, some trendy long sideburns to reflect the 1970s), a pack of cigarettes always close by and a pint of ale in hand come stumps. You were modest to a fault, kind to the point of generosity but never soft. You played hardball against the best, and yet never once compromised the polite sense of respect you had for the game and for your opponent. In the age of good manners you were a standard-bearer.
The field was your playground but not your theatre. You attracted attention to yourself with honest deeds not extravagant words - indeed, all that we ever heard you utter was in response to Alan Knott behind the stumps.
"Bowled Del," Knotty would say as another ball fizzed past the outside edge and was taken at shoulder height by the master stumper.
"Thanks matey," came the gentle reply, on repeat, ball after ball.
Your greatest skill was to give nothing away and to take advantage when the opportunity came. You loved to patiently tie up an end when the pitch was flat, and rip into it when the pitch went rogue. You were accurate, persistent and often deadly. You played for those around you as much as for yourself, and you never, ever gave in.
Above all, perhaps, you were courageous, both physically and mentally. You acted as nightwatch without a helmet against Lillee and Thomson and the West Indies attack of the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. The photograph of you in mid-air, throwing back your head to avoid the ball is, at the same time, one of the most thrilling and alarming cricket shots ever taken. Then, with the ball, when your team turned to you to win the match for them in the fourth innings, you invariably did exactly that. Respect, Deadly, respect. You were the best of England.
I led a side you were in once, remember? MCC versus Australia, Lord's 1985. Allan Border began a counterattack against you and I asked which fielder you would like to drop back and to where. "No idea matey, I tend to leave setting the field to the captain… Hmm, but maybe midwicket could give a yard or two." Oh, okay.
I look back at the match as if it didn't happen: the three days that I skippered Deadly. How marvellous.
So that's it really, time to say goodbye. I've adapted a short poem called "Afterglow" by Helen Lowrie Marshall.
I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one
I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done
I'd like to leave an echo whispering down the ways
Of cricket times and laughing times and bright and sunny days
I'd like the tears of those who grieve to dry beneath the summer sun
I'd like them to be happy memories that I leave, when life is done.
Thanks Deadly, from us all.
Mark Nicholas

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, is a TV and radio presenter and commentator