Daryl Mitchell adds power to New Zealand, with some Aussie help

Son of a former All Black, he benefited playing in Perth in a side that had Australia coach Justin Langer as the senior pro. The Kiwis hope he clicks against their traditional rivals in the T20 World Cup final
New Zealand's Daryl Mitchell (REUTERS)
New Zealand's Daryl Mitchell (REUTERS)
Published on Nov 13, 2021 07:29 PM IST
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When Daryl Mitchell takes the field for New Zealand in the T20 World Cup final in Dubai on Sunday, pitted against him will be a green-and-gold bunch very familiar to the all-rounder. Mitchell hasn’t encountered Australia in his 29 international appearances to date, but the neighbours across the Tasman Sea have had a recurring role at different junctures of the 30-year-old’s now fruitful career.

Mitchell’s cricketing journey has invited growing interest after his unbeaten 72 against England took New Zealand to their first-ever T20 World Cup final. If Australia are now forced to pay close attention to the damage Mitchell can unleash at the top of the order, they have partly themselves to blame. Until a month ago, the opening slot was uncharted territory for Mitchell despite more than 100 appearances in the shortest format. Originally, wicketkeeper Tim Seifert was to open the batting for the Black Caps with Martin Guptill, but his involvement in IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders resulted in his late arrival into the New Zealand bubble before a subsequent injury.

As a stop-gap arrangement perhaps, Mitchell—initially picked as a finisher—was asked to open in their first warm-up game against Australia. He carted the Australian bowlers for 33 off 22 balls before retiring, instantly compelling skipper Kane Williamson and coach Gary Stead to give him a longer crack at opening. Scores of 27, 49, 13, 19 and 17 before the semi-final indicated the move was only a moderate success, but his knock against England has done enough to vindicate the punt NZ took.

“It was an outstanding knock from Mitchell at the top. His character stood out. He’s not done it a lot at the top of the order, but this was an incredible effort,” Williamson said after the semi-final win.

While the NZ camp knows how to capitalise on Mitchell’s strengths, the chances are that Australian coach Justin Langer is equally aware of what the Canterbury all-rounder can do. The two were teammates for a brief period with club side Scarborough in Western Australia in 2009, when Mitchell was a greenhorn figuring his way out in grade cricket in Perth and Langer a grizzled veteran willing to share his vast experience after retirement from international cricket. Mitchell must have no doubt encountered other players of the current Australian team during that period. “In my first year playing alongside Langer, we won a premiership. That was pretty special, just being able to share a dressing room with him,” Mitchell once told stuff.co.nz.

Mitchell, born and raised in Hamilton, had moved to Perth as a 15-year-old in 2006 due to his illustrious father John Mitchell, a former player and coach of the All Blacks. After successful coaching stints in England and New Zealand, John had landed an assignment with Western Force in Australia’s Super 14 rugby competition.

While John was immersed in delivering results for his rugby team, the youngster—he also played rugby in school during the winters—was committed to pursuing cricket. He even made the Western Australia U-19 side during his time in Perth, but if he was ever going to make it to the highest level, Mitchell was clear it would be for the Black Caps.

“It’s a dream for every New Zealander who plays cricket to represent the Black Caps. Even living here (Perth), my choice has always been New Zealand,” he said back then.

And so, Mitchell returned home in 2011 and signed up for Northern Districts in New Zealand’s domestic competition to try and forge a career in his own country. Immediate success didn’t follow and the next few years were spent experiencing the highs and lows of the domestic game. In the meantime, he went about adding other skills that are now serving him well. He hasn’t yet bowled in this World Cup but can deliver a few overs of medium-pace if Williamson so demands. And when he is not doing either of his two primary skills, he can put in an acrobatic effort at the boundary and save a certain six in the manner he did against Afghanistan.

Mitchell doesn’t rue the time he spent going through the domestic grind. “I consider myself very lucky to play for New Zealand. I debuted at 27. To be able to get 7-8 years of domestic cricket before playing for NZ allowed me to learn my game and go through the highs and lows of domestic cricket. I am thoroughly enjoying representing my country. I am trying to make the most of this opportunity,” he said after his decisive contribution on Wednesday night.

If New Zealand do manage to get the better of their Trans-Tasman rivals on Sunday and lift their inaugural World T20 title, Mitchell will be all the more indebted to Australia.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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