First T20I, Pallekele: 45 needed off 27 for the BLACKCAPS. Kasun Rajitha had to bowl a slower ball. Daryl Mitchell, new to the crease, was nearly beaten two balls back. Fortunately for Mitchell, this one was in the slot begging to be hit and gave him the perfect opportunity to swing on the leg-side. He ended up lofting it well over mid-wicket. Hitting in the V is something he is known for. 19 balls later with nine required off eight, Malinga had to produce something out of the ordinary. If anyone, it was him who could but couldn’t. A slower delivery again but in the slot outside off had Mitchell clubbing it over long-on’s head for another maximum. Do all you want, it was surely curtains for Sri Lanka now. Mitchell had provided the perfect finishing fireworks with an unbeaten 19-ball 25. There’s surely more in the offing?
The tradition of having to choose between cricket and rugby at some point in your teenage years in New Zealand has stood the test of time. Growing up in Hamilton, Daryl Mitchell was no exception to it but what did seem different was that his dad, John Mitchell, was a former All Black player-turned-coach. It meant that Daryl grew up around a rugby environment watching teams train.
“He’s always just been my dad, he’s gone to work just like every other dad does,” Daryl says. “It just happened that he went to rugby training instead of to an office or something.
It was cool watching the All Blacks or the Chiefs or England train. I would get to rub shoulders with some pretty cool sportsmen. My dad’s been a good influence on me in many ways. With him away, it was challenging but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After his dad secured a deal with Western Force in Perth, Daryl wound up playing for Scarborough Cricket Club and eventually the Western Australia U19s. During his high school years, he was close to playing for the Australian School Boys on the rugby front but missed out on the U18s. At around 18, he had to part ways with rugby and choose cricket- a move which has paid dividends since then.
“I was a typical New Zealand boy playing rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. Been around rugby my whole life but if I am going to be honest, cricket was my passion. (I) Was always in the backyard playing and watching the BLACKCAPS or Boxing Day tests in the Ashes. I have always been glued to cricket.”
A T20I debut against India was a challenging ask but was in the offing after he had a stellar Super Smash season last year with the Northern Districts where he finished as the third highest run-getter with 323 runs in ten innings at a strike rate of 139.22- including the highest six-hitting tally in the season with 19 maximums.
Started off a batsman, he has honed his death bowling skills of late adding wide yorkers and cutters to his armoury. A batting all-rounder specialising in death bowling is the rarest of all cricketing breeds.
“Death bowling is something I have developed over the last few years. I think it suits my personality, always wanting to be involved in the game and trying to be a part of the big moments. I enjoy bowling in the death overs being able to guess what the batters are up to. It’s a game of cat and mouse!
Talking about his variations, he adds, “You always try to stay a few steps ahead of the batter. I have got a few tricks up my sleeve but at the same time I want to keep it simple so it doesn’t get too complicated when you’re out there. It’s almost like whatever the batsman is doing, you try to do the opposite.”
With the World T20 World Cup barely a year away, his first overseas assignment against Sri Lanka will be crucial as he looks to adapt to slower pitches.
“The WT20 World Cup is just 12-14 months away so it’s obviously exciting. Sri Lanka in their own country is a dangerous team and looking at their squad, they have got a young side but a lot of power throughout their batting line-up and some tricks up their sleeve with the bowling. Going to be a good challenge, exciting times!”
In terms of conditions being different from back home, Mitchell remains unperturbed and is more focussed on the game plan instead of being bogged down by subcontinental challenges.
“I was lucky enough, when I was 20, came out here on an ‘A’ tour. Few things have changed in my game since then. In terms of conditions, the wickets are a lot slower so you try to stay in your shot a little bit longer but the game plan is still the same. Same distance between the wickets and the bowler’s got to bowl the same thing!”
With a perfect mix of youth and experience in the side, there will be significant backing for Daryl Mitchell to play his shots. Will his dad, the current England Rugby defence coach, be watching?
“He’s been pretty busy with the Rugby World Cup coming up but I am sure he’ll be watching. I have got my BLACKCAPS jersey and his All Blacks jersey framed up next to each other!”