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Daryl Mitchell - The invisible backbone of Kiwi batting

Last updated on 13 Oct 2023 | 09:31 PM
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Daryl Mitchell - The invisible backbone of Kiwi batting

Mitchell is performing three different roles for his team - a middle-order enforcer who can play in all phases of the game, an elite spin hitter, and a make-shift finisher with great six-hitting ability down the ground.

What are the metrics that define a quintessential New Zealand cricketer for you? 

Low-key? Unassuming? Humble? Plays cricket in the right ‘spirit’? Efficient and strategically smart with their game? Unexpected?

These are the ones, right? 

What if I tell you Daryl Mitchell has all that and much more? You’ll believe me, right? Or even if you won’t now, allow me a chance here to change your mind.

In today’s game, New Zealand decimated Bangladesh by eight wickets, chasing down 246 with 43 balls to spare. Lockie Ferguson, the best Kiwi bowler of the day, used the short ball well and picked up three Bangladeshi wickets. In the batting, captain Kane Williamson returned from a long injury hiatus with the most Williamson-esque innings, middling everything from ball one and scoring 78 off 107 before getting retired hurt due to a stray throw that hit his thumb. 

These are the two performers for the Blackcaps, which most people will remember from today’s game. But recheck the scorecard. Daryl Mitchell scored 89* off just 67 balls, scoring at an SR of 132.83 on a pitch where no other batter (who faced more than 20 balls) scored above 100. 

He came in the 21st over and lifted his first ball from Shakib Al Hasan for a six over long-off. The way Shakib harmlessly flighted that ball, it was clear he wasn’t expecting the new batter to charge him down the pitch. But Mitchell came out of the syllabus. 

The thing is, Mitchell has been out of the syllabus for teams for quite some time now. Someday, he’s batting in the lower middle order in Tests; someday, he’s opening in T20s and taking his team to a T20 World Cup final; and someday, he’s dropping in at number 4 in ODIs, glueing together a secure-looking Blackcaps middle order. 

He’s everywhere in the team batting sheet and nowhere in the proverbial fan’s mind, all the while scoring at an average of 50.52 and SR of 94.85 in ODIs. 

He has batted everywhere in the middle order for New Zealand, but the current management has slotted him at the crucial number 4 spot. This year, at number 4 alone, he has scored at an average of above 40 and SR of 96.1 in 14 innings. Against spin, he averages 69.83 and strikes at 102.44 - which are just insane numbers for a Kiwi batter. 

What’s most fascinating about his spin game is his strength lies against the ball that turns away from him. Against leg spinners and left-arm orthodox, he averages 97 and 86, respectively, compared to 35.5 against offies - which is counterintuitive and just plain ridiculous! With all teams possessing either a quality leggie or left-arm spinner in their playing XIs, Mitchell is indispensable for New Zealand. 

He also showed the abovementioned ability in today’s game, scoring 43* off his 89 runs against spinners, with a control % above 90! At no point was he in any trouble against them. He was even more belligerent against the pacers as Bangladeshi quick bowlers bowled many hit-me balls to him, and he obliged, hitting them either through the V (between long on and long off) or mid-wicket. 

His ability to hit straight against both the pacers and spinners ensures that he doesn’t skip the ball in an attempt to play a cross-batted shot, reducing the risks for his team. 

Now, you might wonder, with such great numbers and ability, where was he for all these years? Why is it so that the casual cricket fan has been hearing his name for the last two years or so? 

Well, it’s because he’s a late bloomer. Born in 1991, he only made his international debut in 2019, after having played 210 games and eight seasons of domestic cricket in New Zealand! In a way, his story is very similar to Dawid Malan's, as both had to go through years of domestic grind before making their debuts on the cusp of 30 and becoming inevitable for their respective teams in a few years of international cricket. 

Also read: Dawid Malan - The Mr. Consistent in a Team of freaks

Mitchell’s father, John Mitchell, is a former New Zealand Rugby union player and coach. So, when he wasn’t playing domestic cricket (domestic contracts run for only seven months in New Zealand), he was either studying for his degree in Sports Science or pulling off a short stint as the Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach for the Waikato Rugby team. Growing up and later working in elite sports environments had its effects, discernible in Mitchell's uber-competitive and composed temperament on the field. 

Meanwhile, his five months away from cricket allowed him to recognise how there’s an entire world outside of this bat and ball sport, keeping him away from the fierce debilitating glare of popularity that comes from having a famous father and not being as successful yourself. 

You can already see how he was shaping himself to be the most perfect member of New Zealand’s national cricket team, understanding the value of humility, hard work, persistence, and the eventual futility of it all. 

After his debut in 2019, he was often shifted around in the batting order. But before the 2021 T20 World Cup, coach Gary Stead asked him to open the batting instead of being the finisher - something he hadn’t done before. In that tournament, he scored 208 runs in 7 innings (averaging 34.66 with an SR of 140.54) with a blistering match-winning 72* in the semi-final. 

In that semi-final, with his team needing 34 off three overs, he denied a single to his batting partner James Neesham, as he had unintentionally obstructed Adil Rashid, who was trying to save that solitary run. That won him the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award in 2021, proving that along with being an elite batter, he’s also someone for whom the means matter as much as the end. 

Can anyone get more Kiwi than that?

“But I think one of my skill sets is that I’m able to different positions and different situations, and that suits my role. I’m not bothered where I bat. I just want to win games of cricket for my country”, he told BBC in 2022. 

And that is exactly what Mitchell has done since then. He has made adaptability his USP, allowing his team to play him anywhere as required. Today was just a glimpse of how critical he is to the Kiwi batting order. Williamson takes some time to get going, and Mitchell is one of the quick starters for them. His spin game is phenomenal, allowing him to navigate the middle overs easily; once he’s done with that, he can blast off in the end and polish off chases like Mac and Cheese. 

As a result, he’s basically performing three different roles for his team - a middle-order enforcer who can play in all phases of the game, an elite spin hitter, and a make-shift finisher with great six-hitting ability down the ground. 

Additionally, he bowls more than functional medium pace, having picked up 13 wickets in 13 ODI innings at a very good average of 21.07 and economy of 5.70. He’s also an exceptional outfielder with great stamina and fitness courtesy of his S&C background, which is invaluable in subcontinent conditions

Forget 3-D. Mitchell is essentially a 5-D player for New Zealand. He’s the invisible backbone of their batting in this World Cup. Even Kane Williamson’s shadow isn’t big enough to subsume his incandescent talent. 

And you know the best part? He does it all in the most Kiwi way possible - silently, with unexpected efficiency, and with a small smile just big enough to acknowledge his success. 

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