Matches (13)
PSL 2024 (2)
NZ v AUS (1)
Ranji Trophy (2)
Nepal Tri-Nation (1)
Sheffield Shield (3)
Durham in ZIM (1)
CWC Play-off (1)
WPL (1)
Dang CL (1)
Feature

Daryl Mitchell, a name to remember

How the accidental opener took New Zealand to their first T20 World Cup final

Deivarayan Muthu
10-Nov-2021
Daryl Mitchell, who? He's the son of John Mitchell, the former All Blacks player and coach. He grew up around the All Blacks and even played rugby at school during the winters. Daryl's dream, however, was to become a Black Cap.
He becomes the best finisher in the Super Smash. After all, nobody has hit more sixes than him in New Zealand's domestic competition in the past five years. After injury sidelines Colin de Grandhomme from the entire 2020-21 home summer, Daryl fills in for him and then suddenly finds himself in New Zealand's T20 World Cup squad.

****

During the warm-ups, in the lead-up to the main tournament, the finisher becomes the accidental opener. He jumps out of the track and lines up mystery spinners like Varun Chakravarthy and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Mitchell, though, is a bigger mystery.
He tells Laura McGoldrick, the broadcaster and Martin Guptill's wife, on Sky Sports NZ that he sings Frozen songs with his opening partner before walking out to bat. That aside, you probably don't know much about Mitchell, the opener.
England are masters at match-ups - Liam Livingstone is bowling legspin to Devon Conway because the left-hander is weaker against this variety of spin than offspin - but how can you plan against someone who has never ever opened in T20 cricket before this World Cup?

****

Everything, however, goes according to England's best-laid plans in the powerplay, in their defence of 166 in Abu Dhabi. Chris Woakes hits Test-match lines and lengths, taking out Guptill and captain Kane Williamson. He bowls a perfectly pitched outswinger and gets it to seam away, too, past Mitchell's outside edge. Mitchell's parents, who have flown in to Abu Dhabi in the midst of a pandemic, to watch their son in action on the biggest stage, get twitchy in the stands.
Mitchell gets twitchy as well. He knows he has been bumped to the top to take advantage of the field restrictions with his muscle, but the ball isn't quite sliding onto the bat under lights. There isn't as much dew as New Zealand expected.
Mitchell keeps throwing his bat at the ball. He can't middle anything. He swings so hard that he loses his shape. Mark Wood rushes him with his blistering pace and bounce. He searches for the reverse-sweep against Adil Rashid but the legspinner drags his length back and dangles a legbreak away from Mitchell's reach. Liam Livingstone, too, pins him down with his assortment of offbreaks and legbreaks. Mitchell dawdles to a run-a-ball 28.
Guptill and Williamson are gone, but Conway is more fluent, in comparison, to Mitchell, marrying timing with invention. But then Livingstone has him stumped as the asking rate soars past ten an over. Conway's mother, Sandy, has her head in her hands. New Zealand are helpless. New Zealand fans are helpless.

****

Wood then thumps out a lifter. Mitchell flaps a top-edge over the keeper's head for six. The cameras pan out to the stands, where Mitchell's parents are as surprised as he is.
Neesham then tees off, biffing three sixes. The weight of the world is now off Mitchell's shoulders. He breathes easy, composes himself, and starts to play to his strengths: clear the front leg, maintain a stable base, and simply whack the ball. The dew also sets in as Rashid loses his length and drags one down. Mitchell unleashes a devil-may-care swipe and sends the ball over midwicket for six. He barely celebrates his fifty, but his parents can now afford a smile.
Two balls later, though, Rashid wipes out the smiles in the New Zealand camp by having Neesham holing out with a wrong'un.

****

New Zealand need 20 off 12 balls. Woakes is back for his last over. The ball is neither swinging nor seaming now. So Woakes looks to go short and tuck up Mitchell. He bowls a cutter into the pitch. Mitchell, however, sits deep in the crease, waits for it to arrive, and clobbers it over long-on and into New Zealand's dug-out. Mitchell's mother is saying a silent prayer.
Woakes then ventures an on-pace short ball, but Mitchell sizes it up too and launches it over midwicket and into the grass banks. The mighty strike now has his mother breaking into a little jig.
Glenn Phillips, Shane Bond, and Kyle Jamieson are all up on their feet, raising their hands in joy. Mind you, the trio was not part of the squad in 2019. Neesham and Williamson, however, don't move from their seats and keep their poker faces on. They know what it's like to lose by the "barest of margins" without even losing.
Mitchell has messed with Woakes' length and head after clearing the bigger boundaries in Abu Dhabi. Woakes ditches the short stuff for the yorker, but it comes out as a full-toss, which is swatted away to the boundary.
Mitchell pumps his fist and is embraced by his childhood friend Mitchell Santner - the pair grew up playing cricket together at Northern Districts. Mitchell's parents celebrate with the handful of Kiwi fans in the crowd.

****

That sequence of 6,6,4 from nowhere puts New Zealand in their first-ever T20 World Cup final. In 2016, it was Carlos Brathwaite who emerged from nowhere to blindside England with a sequence of 6,6,6,6 against Ben Stokes in Kolkata. Five years later, a new hero emerges in the form of Daryl, giving England a sense of déjà vu.
So, kids, that's how the big daddy of the Super Smash beat the big daddies of white-ball cricket. Remember the name: Daryl Mitchell!

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo