Derek Underwood's relationship with Irish cricket may have started as a business proposition but it soon developed into that of an enthusiastic supporter.

It was summed up for me in Malaysia in 1997 as we watched Ireland against USA in the first round of the ICC World Cup qualifier. It was a nail-biter as Ireland won by two wickets in a match Derek was to describe as one of the best he'd ever seen. Beside us, Irish selector Roy Torrens was enthusiastically relaying the news back home to radio listeners on his mobile: "Irish eyes are smiling in Kuala Lumpur tonight!!". He could have added: "And Derek Underwood's".

Appropriately for one of England's greatest spin bowlers, Derek was to find himself in the business of sports pitches and surfaces when he became cricket director of ClubTurf, one of the UK's leading suppliers.

A link with Northern Ireland was established after the NI Cricket Association was formed In the 1990s to foster relations between the Northern and North West Unions.

The Association's biggest achievement was winning a huge grant from the Sports Council for the installation of artificial pitches at 40 grounds throughout the unions' areas. ClubTurf won the contract to instal the pitches: enter Derek Underwood and the start of his close relationship with local cricket.

The company was to sponsor a tournament unique in Northern Ireland. The ClubTurf Ulster Cup was confined to the top teams in both unions with 40 over matches played on artificial pitches. The draw for the first tournament in 1999 was made by Derek at one of the earliest Christmas lunches of the NI region of the cricket based charity the Lord's Taverners.

ClubTurf sponsored the tournaments up to 2013, with the two unions sharing the spoils. The O'Neills sportswear company took over the sponsorship mantle Ulster Cups until the tournament had run its course in 2018. Overall, NCU clubs came out of top 10-9.

Derek Underwood presenting the trophy at a Clubturf Cup FinalDerek Underwood presenting the trophy at a Clubturf Cup Final

The ClubTurf was but one of Derek's many contributions to cricket here. There were innumerable public appearances, notably as a speaker along with Henry Kelly at the 50th anniversary of the NI Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers in 1999.

Derek even donned the whites to enliven the local scene as the driving force behind an Old England XI which played an NCU President's XI under the captaincy of Stephen Warke in 2005. England players on show included John Lever, Rob Bailey, Clive Radley, Paul Parker, Derek Randall and, of course, that left arm spinner they called "Deadly" who had bagged 297 wickets in his 86 Tests.

Derek has always been delightful company, his modesty such that his brilliant career was only mentioned after considerable prompting. And such was the case when he and one Barry Chambers stayed at my home for the weekend of a ClubTurf final.

Derek Underwood coaching Robin Walsh's grandsonDerek Underwood coaching Robin Walsh's grandson

His reminiscences were a fascinating insight into Test cricket, not least of the final day of the Oval Test in 1968 when spectators made the rain soaked ground playable and Derek did the rest to square the series.

But if it was a pleasure to host Derek, nothing was to compare with his reciprocal hospitality.

When he was President of the MCC in 2009 he invited me to his box during an Ashes Test at Lord's. At one stage I found myself in the company of three of the only four survivors of Bradman's 1948 Invincibles: Arthur Morris, Neil Harvey and Sam Loxton.

I asked the three legends what they thought about batsmen wearing helmets.

Loxton, who'd been a tank commander in North Africa during the war, brought the house down when he boomed: "Bloody helmets, we didn't even wear them at Tobruk!".

Derek also had a real sense of humour, albeit somewhat more quietly expressed.

Witness one of his Christmas cards signed:

"From Derek (Deadly no more!)

Not true.