1997

Tommy Mitchell

THE PASSING of Thomas Bignall Mitchell marks far more than the death of one of the outstanding legspinners of his generation. Indeed, today's England side would undoubtedly be more competitive if Mike Atherton could call on a wrist-spinner of Mitchell's skills.

    A cold survey of his achievements provides only half the picture:
  • 1483 wickets (20.60) in first-class cricket ( 1928-39). He also scored 2431 runs (7.97).
  • 1417 wickets for Derbyshire (fourth-highest for the county).
  • Record number of wickets in a season by Derbyshire bowler (168 in 1935).
  • 116 wickets in 1936, when Derbyshire won the County Championship for the first and so far only time.
  • Over 100 wickets in 10 successive seasons ( 1929-38).
  • Five Tests in the 1930s - three against Australia and one each against New Zealand and South Africa: 8 wickets for England (62.25).
  • In his only Test of the 1932-33`Bodyline' tour - the fourth at Brisbane, where the Ahses were regained - Mitchell twice dismissed Australia's skipper Bill Woodfull.

A fine bowler, then, by the highest standards - indeed, Don Bradman was reported to have commented that Mitchell didn't know how good he was. Tommy, thankfully, was not a grey statistic. Far from it. He was humorous, sometimes a handful, occasionally troublesome, fond of a pint and known for blunt speaking. His ridicule wasn't always appreciated by amateur skippers and opponents, but the bespectacled Mitchell stood out as a character with a sharp brain and tongue.

Born in the mining village of Creswell, near Bolsover, he followed his father into the pits, and although Tommy moved to work and live in the South Yorkshire coalfield for many years, he remained distinctively a proud north Derbyshire man.

His home in Thurnscoe, near Rotherham, was full of cricket mementos: mounted balls, a scrapbook, a letter from Harold Larwood, his MCC contract for the 1932-33 tour, and arguably the most sentimental possession - the silver ashtray given to each of the players by the grateful and victorious captain Douglas Jardine.

Tommy relished recalling that momentous tour. Why was he selected for Brisbane? ` Jardine picked me because he hoped I'd get Bradman out. In the NSW match, before the Test, I'd bowled him for 1, second ball, with my googly. He came down the wicket, stepped back to cut it, and it bowled him leg stump. I also won £20 because I'd bet that I would get Bradman out.'

Mitchell: last of the Bodyline tourists

He held Jardine in the highest regard. `He was a ruthless captain, but we were behind him to a man. Before one Test, he considered dropping himself because his average wasn't good enough. But he was outvoted by the selection committee. He was so thorough: when I was 12th man, he'd say Take a few autograph books into the Australian dressing-room and see what they are talking about.'

Considering his talent, Mitchell's Test record disappointed, but he excelled for Derbyshire. He was a matchwinner, and frequently inexpensive for a legspinner. Two wrecking performances deserve mention. He took 10 for 64 at Leicester in 1935, only the second time that a Derbyshire bowler has taken all 10; and 6 for 11 and 6 for 19 against Sussex at Chesterfield in 1931.

Tommy's contributions to Derbyshire's fortunes, not least in the Championship-winning side of 1936, are fondly remembered by a younger contemporary, Charlie Elliott. Now 83 and still running an hotel in Nottingham, the former Test umpire and Derbyshire batsman played alongside Mitchell in the 1930s, as did his uncle, Harry, the county's wicketkeeper.

`A fantastic bowler who compared with anyone in the world. I have nothing but accolades. Tommy enjoyed life and liked a gamble,' recalls Elliott. `I remember Tommy turning up at Derby in 1946 or `47 with his son, who'd come for a trial. Anyway, Tommy bowled in the practice match in blue trousers and an ordinary shirt. He bowled them out twice! He was still capable of playing first-class cricket, although he was retired. A hell of a bowler.'

What else is there to say? Tommy Mitchell would have settled for that thoughtful and thorough tribute from one professional to another.

Hazel Sanders


HAZEL SANDERS, who died in Folkestone on Dec 29, aged 68, played in 12 Tests for England. She was a member of the 1948-49 and 1957-58 touring teams to Australia and New Zealand, not only showing a fighting spirit with the bat when the occasion demanded (which was quite often) but also proving to be an outstanding fielder, especially at silly mid-on, where her amazing speed of reaction resulted in a record of 15 catches taken in her dozen Tests.

Hazel learnt cricket playing with her brother and continued her love of the game while at Mitcham County School and Reading University, where she majored in science. That subject remained and interest all her life, and she wrote countless theses on scientific and medical topics, including one, found after her death, on BSE disease.

She represented Surrey for many years, later giving good service in coaching. Her sense of humour, coupled with an inborn absentmindedness, made for interesting situations whenever Hazel was around. She will be much missed in the Women's Cricket Association by those who played and worked with her.

Netta Rheinberg

An interview with Tommy Mitchell appeared in the July 1986 edition of WCM.

© John Wisden & Co