January 08, 1909, Ferreira Deep Gold Mine, Johannesburg, Transvaal
July 01, 1995, Abbotsford, Johannesburg, Transvaal, (aged 86y 174d)
Right hand Bat
Bruce Mitchell appeared in every one of South Africa's 42 Tests from 1929 to 1949 and ranks among the finest batsmen produced by his country. His total of 3471 Test runs (48.88) is the largest by any Springbok, and only Dudley Nourse (nine) made more than his eight Test centuries.
For most of Mitchell's career the South African batting lacked depth, and he was ever-conscious of his responsibility to lay a sound foundation. Had he played in a powerful batting side, there is no question but that he would have reached even greater heights. Possessor of a full range of strokes, he was seldom in a position to bat with absolute freedom, and he somewhat unfairly gained a reputation as a defensive batsman. The great South African wicket-keeper at the turn of the century, E. A. Halliwell, predicted that Mitchell would become a Test batsman after seeing him handle a bat at the age of six.
Born in Johannesburg on Jan 8, 1909, Mitchell made his first-class debut for Transvaal at 17, taking 11 wickets against Border with his high-tossed legbreaks and googlies. His batting started to develop the following season, and when MCC toured in 1927-28, Mitchell had worked his way up the order to No. 3. He hit 40, and a fine all round performance against Natal in the 1928-29 trial matches followed by successes against Griqualand West, rescuing his side after the first six batsmen had managed 11 runs between them, made his place in the Springbok team a mere formality.
Mitchell made his maiden first-class century against the powerful Yorkshire team at Sheffield. Promoted to open against MCC, at Lord's, he went in first in 14 of his remaining 21 matches.
Starting his Test career at Edgbaston, Mitchell shared partnerships of 119 and 171 for the first wicket with Bob Catterall, contributing 88 and 61 not out. His first innings lasted seven hours against a powerful attack including Larwood, Tate, Fender, White and Hammond. He was unable to produce another substantial innings in the series, and finished with 251 runs at 31.37. In all first-class matches he scored 1615 runs at 32.95, with three centuries, took 24 wickets at 38.91, and held 38 catches.
Against the visiting England side in 1930-31, Mitchell, batting No. 3, made 6 and 72 (top-score of the match for either side) in the First Test, won by South Africa by 28 runs. Restored to opening in the Second Test, at Newlands - the First Test played on a turf pitch in South Africa- he shared an opening stand of 260 with Jack Siedle which remains the best for South Africa's first wicket in all Tests. Mitchell finished with 123. He did nothing of note in the Third Test, but 68 and 74 in the fourth, and 73 and 21 in the fifth put him top of the South African batting with 455 runs at 50.55.
Affected by ill-health on the 1931-32 tour of Australia and New Zealand, Mitchell disappointed with 1048 runs at 34.93. However, he topped the batting in the five Tests in Australia with 322 runs at 32.20 for a side which was extremely unlucky in having to bat on rain-affected pitches four times. His best efforts were 58 at Brisbane and 75 and 95 at Adelaide. The first of these three half-centuries was a valiant effort on a wet pitch, and at one stage he batted for 90 minutes without adding to his score.
He struck top form in New Zealand, with 123 against Auckland, 113 in the First Test at Christchurch, and 0 and 53 in the second, at Wellington. He then hit 125 against Western Australia, on the way home.
Mitchell's maiden Currie Cup century eluded him by one run in 1933-34 when Bob Crisp caught-and-bowled him for 99 at Newlands, but the following season he scored 179 against Natal at Kingsmead. He also regained his bowling touch, being the leading wicket-taker in the competition with 32 wickets (14.87).
The 1935 Springbok tour of the UK was a triumph for Mitchell, who scored 1451 runs at 45.34 to finish second in the averages, and took 35 wickets at 19.02 to top the bowling. He led the Test batting figures with 488 runs at 69.71, making centuries at Lord's and the Oval. Against Surrey at the Oval he made 195 (his career-highest) and put on 330 for the first wicket with Eric Rowan in the biggest partnership by a South African pair in England. Had he not missed eight out of nine matches at the start of the tour through injury, he could well have scored over 2000 runs.
Mitchell played the innings of his life in the Lord's Test, making 164 not out in the South African second innings and setting up the Springboks' First Test win in England. On a pitch favouring spinners, Mitchell batted with calm assurance against the strong England attack, being aided by `Chud' Langton in a then-record seventh-wicket stand of 101 for South Africa in Tests in England. He nearly missed this historic Test, having just been gashed over the eye while fielding against Staffordshire.
His innings of 128 in the final Test set South Africa on the path to 476, which made them safe from defeat, and assured them of winning the series.
Suffering reaction after the arduous tour, Mitchell- along with nearly all his team-mates - was below his best when the Australians visited in 1935-36. In seven matches against the tourists, he managed only one score over 50, though he did produce an amazing spell in the Second Test which yielded him 4 for 5, including three wickets in an over. In the fifth Test, at Kingsmead, he took 5 for 87 in Australia's innings of 455, earning the honour of planting a tree at the ground to recognise his five-wicket feat.
He experienced his best Currie Cup season in 1937-38, scoring 579 runs at 72.37 with three centuries, and taking 31 wickets at 15.09. In the vital match against Natal, which Transvaal won on the first innings to ensure a share of the Currie Cup, Mitchell scored 58 and 108, and took eight wickets.
The 1938-39 MCC tour found him in top form. For Transvaal, he hit 133 and 38, followed by 73 and 48 not out in the First Test. He did little in the second, but made a superb 109 in the third march of the series, at Kingsmead, where England won by an innings on a pitch which gave their bowlers enormous help. Mitchell added 63 in the fourth Test, before finishing with 11 and 89 in the `timeless Test'. That made his aggregate 720 at 65.45 in all matches against the Englishmen, including 466 at 58.25 in the Tests.
The war interrupted his career (he served with the Transvaal Scottish Regiment in East Africa, El Alamein and Italy) but he made a comeback with three matches in 1945-46 and hit 426 runs at 47.33 the following season. He scored 159 against Griqualand West, when he and Alan Melville established a South African seventh-wicket record of 299.
Mitchell's third trip to the UK in 1947 brought fresh triumphs. He topped the averages for first-class matches with 2014 runs at 61.03, made eight centuries and finished second in the Test figures with 597 runs at 66.33. His aggregate is the highest by a South African on tour. His first eight innings produced only 110 runs, but he then played a superb innings of 103 not out, carrying his bat against MCC at Lord's when none of his team-mates managed to exceed 40 in the match. Three centuries in five innings were followed by failure in the First Test, but he was South Africa's leading runmaker in the second with 46 and 80. He was run out in the Third Test when 80 and looking set for a century, and in the final Test, at the Oval, he became the second Springbok to score two centuries in a Test. Mitchell spent all but eight minutes of the four days on the field, batting for more than 13 hours in scoring 120 and 189 not out - efforts which almost brought victory to his side. As it was, when the game ended, South Africa, chasing 451, had reached 423 for 7, and Mitchell and Lindsay Tuckett (40 not out) had added 109 for the eighth wicket, the best in a Test for the Springboks against England.
Mitchell played in only three matches in 1947-48, the last in his Currie Cup career, but he was in fine form when MCC toured the following summer. He did as well as most in the low-scoring First Test, top-scored with 86 in the first innings of the second, and made 120 at Newlands in the third match of the series to equal Herby Taylor's record of seven Test centuries against England- a number later achieved by Dudley Nourse also. Mitchell made 99 and 56 in the fifth Test, at Port Elizabeth, and few would have guessed that he would never again play for South Africa.
Although he had turned 40 when the Australians arrived the following season, he was considered a certainty for the series along with two other veterans, Dudley Nourse and Eric Rowan, especially after his 475 runs at 52.77 against England the previous summer. However, after the Australian fast bowlers had launched an all-out attack on him in the Transvaal and South African XI matches, the selectors caused a sensation by omitting him from the First Test. In spite of managing only 29 runs in three innings, he had stood up to Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and the others unflinchingly, and certainly deserved a chance in at least two Tests to find his form - especially as he had played in 42 consecutive Tests. Taking everything into account, his omission must rate as the shabbiest treatment handed out to a Springbok by selectors.
Bruce Mitchell played no more first-class cricket, finishing his distinguished career with 11,395 runs at 45.39 from 173 matches. He hit 30 centuries, held 228 catches, and captured 249 wickets at 25.63. He was a superb slip fielder, and his total of 56 catches in his 42 Tests is the most by a South African other than a wicketkeeper. He caught 12 in the 1930-31 series against England, including five in the fourth Test, and held six in the Third Test at Melbourne in 1931-32. All these feats are the best for South Africa, and Mitchell shares them with several other players.
Few quieter or more modest men have played Test cricket, and Mitchell's perfect sportsmanship on and off the field at all times was living proof that success can be achieved without any compromise of behaviour.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding