As a sports fan, a part of you dies when a player you grew up admiring passes away. So it was for this writer, when Derek Underwood of England and Kent breathed his last recently. He was quite easily the best spinner England has produced. ‘Deadly’ was his nickname, and he was indeed deadly especially on those uncovered, wet wickets of England of the 1960s and 1970s.

The numbers speak for themselves — 297 wickets in 86 Tests and a staggering 2,465 First Class wickets in a career that spanned almost two-and-a-half decades, starting in the early 1960s and going well into the 1980s. Sixteen of them were spent playing Test cricket. His 297 Test wickets is still the highest by an English spinner.

Having taken his scalp 12 times, Sunil Gavaskar has admitted on several occasions that Underwood was the most difficult bowler he faced, and this in era dominated by the mighty fast bowlers of the West Indies and Australia. For a left arm spinner, Underwood was a lot quicker both in the air and off the pitch, and he rarely flighted the ball.

But he had prodigious turn, some even called it closer to a medium-pacer’s “cut”, nagging accuracy and a devastating arm ball that foxed many a batter.

He will also be warmly remembered by Indian fans of a certain vintage for he toured the country thrice in the seventies and early eighties, taking 29 wickets in the 1976-77 series that England won 3-1 and also known more for John Lever’s “vaseline tactics”.

Cricketers of his era remember Underwood for his genial and affable nature off the field. Mike Brearley once recalled that the only time he remembered Underwood losing his flap was in Kolkata when has was swarmed by photographers when he was trying to enjoy a quiet swim.

Underwood belonged to a bygone era of cricket unknown to white ball, coloured clothing and floodlights. With his passing that era has become more distant.