CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1936

Bruce Mitchell

Bruce Mitchell, who first played for South Africa against England at the early age of twenty, was born at Johannesburg on January 8, 1909. The tour in England last season brought a marked increase of reputation to this most stylish batsman; his wonderful triumph at Lord's, when in the second innings of the Test Match he scored 164 not out, is fresh in the memory. A curiosity of Mitchell's career in first-class cricket is that he originally gained his place in the Transvaal team as a bowler. That was in 1926 when against Border he took eleven wickets, an analysis of five for 23 in the first innings being followed by figures of six for 72. He scarcely maintained that form in first-class cricket, and was used sparingly over here, possibly to save his strength for batting.

Mitchell played his first cricket of any importance for St. John's College, Johannesburg. The school had no regular coach, but famous South African players used to give advice to the boys, and Mitchell received valuable assistance from E. G. McDonald and H. W. Taylor. There is something very convincing about his success as a schoolboy cricketer. In his last year but one at St. John's he scored a thousand runs and in 1926 his aggregate was 648 runs, average 49; in addition he took 67 wickets for about sixteen runs apiece. He must have studied the art of batting assiduously for three years later he was chosen for the tour of H. G. Deane's team in England. Except when playing at Durban, Mitchell had little or no experience of turf wickets and he himself was not exactly certain whether he was coming here as a batsman or a bowler. That he eventually returned a higher aggregate in first-class matches than any of his colleagues was most remarkable for so young a player.

In a way his success formed a tribute to the astute judgment of Deane himself. Mitchell began the tour as a No. 7 batsman, scoring 83 against Worcestershire, and the South African captain after gradually moving him higher in the order eventually gave him his chance as opening batsman in the first Test Match of the series at Edgbaston. What Mitchell accomplished on that occasion might be accorded a special place in the history of Test cricket; he went in with Catterall and England did not see the back of him for seven hours. Although during that time Mitchell scored only 88 runs and the remarkable patience and endurance he showed made his innings somewhat featureless, there was no mistaking that he was a first-rate defensive batsman and no mean exponent of the off drive. In the second innings he made 61 not out.

Since then he has not missed a Test Match. In the five representative games against the M.C.C. team that visited South Africa in 1930-31, he scored in all 455 runs for an average of 50.55--an achievement that placed him at the top of the batting list. He and Siedle, by making 260 in the second Test Match at Cape Town, set up a record partnership for the first wicket of South Africa. Going to Australia the following winter, Mitchell again finished at the head of the batting figures for Test matches, and also earned golden opinions during the tour for his admirable slip fielding. In the third Test Match, he made six catches, the one that disposed of Woodfull being described as brilliant. It is not flattery to describe him as a slip fieldsman of the first flight and for his proficiency in this direction something is probably due to Halliwell, the South African wicket-keeper, who used to teach him to catch when he was only six years old.

Altogether, Bruce Mitchell must be regarded as a fine all-round cricketer; perhaps the best has not yet been seen of him. As a batsman he is one of those who strike the eye by grace of style; he plays with a quiet, calm deliberation, makes the most of his five feet 10 inches, in getting well over the ball and in his footwork is superb. He always seems to have plenty of time for his strokes and his off-drive is so beautifully done that for such an essentially steady and defensive player his innings rarely become dull to watch. Certainly he carried caution a little too far in the Test match at Manchester last July, when it was urged that he adopted such measures because of orders from his captain. On his own evidence that was not so. Mitchell explained that although he went in ready to play his normal game he found great difficulty in getting the ball away. - W.H.B.

© John Wisden & Co