The under-the-radar success story from the Black Caps summer

Publish Date
Sunday, 28 March 2021, 9:59AM
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By: Dylan Cleaver

In a summer of unprecedented Black Caps success, Daryl Mitchell's emergence as a batsman of international class might be the one aspect that has snuck up on us the most.

While Devon Conway has wowed the public with his class and consistency, from the relative anonymity of the middle order, Mitchell has made a strong statement about the ability of New Zealand domestic cricket to mould international players.

Granted, there are a couple of cautionary notes. Mitchell has played 16 of his 19 internationals in home conditions and not all the opposition has been as robust as it might have been. It might be generous to list him as an all-rounder; a batsman who can bowl a bit would be more accurate.

That batting though. Mitchell has a veteran's hairline and he bats like one too. There's a reason for that.

Mitchell made his first-class debut nine years ago for Northern Districts. He has come into the upper echelons of the sport already knowing what his game is all about. Some are born to play international cricket; some are made. Mitchell is the latter.

"The strength of domestic cricket within New Zealand is obviously helping players once they come to this level. It's not such a big step up," he told NewstalkZB after his maiden ODI century.

"When you've got world-class players… it makes it easier for the likes of myself, Dev and Will Young to come in and play our natural game. Hopefully New Zealand cricket is in a good space for a long time yet."

Mitchell made his test debut last season, scoring an impressive 73 against England. He played three more this summer, punctuated by an unbeaten 102 against Pakistan at Hagley Oval.

That was a race against time as captain Kane Williamson looked to declare. So was this effort against Bangladesh, as the balls ticked away.

He started the final over on 83 and hit the first three balls for four, suddenly bringing a century into focus. He needed a massive hand-up from his mate Mitchell Santner, who somehow managed to chip a three off the penultimate ball to get Mitchell back on strike on 98.

He then got a final hand from hapless keeper Mushfiqur Rahim who couldn't gather the ball with Mitchell well short looking for his second run.

"I was just trying to swing as hard as I could and see what happened. When Mitch hit the second last ball for three and got me on strike it was run as hard as you can and hopefully get it done.

"Sometimes it's just meant to be."

Other times it's just not meant to be. With the depth New Zealand have suddenly at their disposal, some very good players are going to miss selection for big games. Mitchell speaks with the pragmatism of somebody who waited a long time for his opportunity.

"The less you worry about your own position, just worry about winning games for your team, the more chance you have of success. It's something we drive in this team: keep trying to get better, keep trying to improve and help New Zealand win games of cricket.

"If you do that for long enough, you'll have some success."

Devon Conway, with whom Mitchell added a record 159 runs for the fifth wicket, has had to bide his time to play at the top level too.

All the superlatives about his debut summer have been exhausted, and Conway wasn't going to add to them himself. It's not his way.

"Good day at the office," he said.

Not a bad office either, the Basin Reserve bathed in autumn sunlight.

It was a ground he took an immediate shine to ever since he was called in to keep wicket in a trial match, having come to the country from his native South Africa.

Next to him in the slips were Jeetan Patel and Michael Papps, two Wellington veterans. He told them how lucky they were to have played so much cricket on the Basin.

"I'll keep that close to my heart for a long time."

He'll play a lot more matches on the ground, too.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission