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New Zealand always believed - Daryl Mitchell

Match-winner praises Neesham for playing 'a hell of a knock'

Deivarayan Muthu
New Zealand never felt that the target of 167 was beyond their reach, despite losing early wickets and falling behind the asking rate, in their semi-final against England in Abu Dhabi. So said finisher-turned-opener Daryl Mitchell after his unbeaten 72 off 47 balls dragged New Zealand into their first-ever T20 World Cup final.
He put on 40 for the fifth wicket with Jimmy Neesham in a mere 17 balls after his side had slipped to 107 for 4 at the start of the 16th over.
"No, it probably sounds weird, but it never felt like it was out of our grasp," Mitchell said at the post-match press conference. "I think especially with that smaller side boundary on one side, we knew that there were going to be match-ups there that might suit us towards the end, and look, we were obviously very lucky at times; a couple sailed over the ropes that could have been a metre shorter and we're all out.
"But at the same time, we always knew that as long as we kept just within the certain numbers that we felt comfortable with that we were always a chance. I thought the way that Neesh [Neesham] came out and really dominated that one over really set the momentum heading into those last few, so yeah, take my cap off to him. He played a hell of a knock."
Mitchell's rickety start mirrored New Zealand's: he was on 12 off 10 balls after the powerplay and then 28 off 28 in the 13th over. Mitchell struggled against the swing and seam of Chris Woakes, but he somehow rode out that incisive new-ball spell and picked off the seamer for 6,6,4 to seal New Zealand's victory, with an over to spare.
"Yeah, I think the new ball is very challenging on that surface," Mitchell said. "It was pretty two-paced to start off with, and as you could probably see, it was tough to get going at times.
"I thought the way that all the batters that came in sort of hung in there and helped build a platform to try and allow us to launch at the end, and we were very lucky that a few just snuck over the rope and got us going... it's a bit of a blur, but I can imagine it was a hell of a game to watch, and I think the way England played was very special as well. It's obviously pretty cool to get the job done, but I know it's a game of inches, that's for sure."
Mitchell's parents had flown into Abu Dhabi ahead of the semi-final to support him at his first World Cup. Mitchell's father, John, is a prominent sporting figure in New Zealand; he is a former All Blacks player and coach. Mitchell had last met his father after exiting the World Test Championship bubble in the UK, where John was then part of the England rugby team as their defence coach.
"It was cool to have dad there," Mitchell said. "Obviously flying over from England, with what's going on in the world at the moment with Covid, yeah, it makes it challenging at times, but it was cool to have him in the crowd. Obviously with the bubble life I can't catch up with him, but I'm sure I'll have a chat to him on the phone tonight and he'll be pretty chuffed."
Mitchell is sort of a late bloomer, having made his domestic debut for Northern Districts in domestic cricket in 2011. It was only in 2020-21 that he had a bumper season after moving to Canterbury - a run that culminated in a first New Zealand central contract and a first call-up to New Zealand's World Cup squad. Mitchell also had a stint with Middlesex in the most recent T20 Blast, scoring 209 runs in eight innings at a strike rate of 144.13 in addition to picking up eight wickets.
"I guess I actually consider myself very lucky to have played for New Zealand," Mitchell said. "I think I debuted at 27, so to be able to get seven, eight years of domestic cricket under my belt before representing New Zealand, I think I actually consider myself very lucky.
"I learned my game a little bit and [to] go through the highs and lows of domestic cricket so that once you get on to the international stage you understand what works for you both as a cricketer and as a person, you can just go about doing your business. I'm just enjoying being able to represent my country, play for New Zealand and share a changing room with all my teammates. It's pretty cool. I'm having a blast and just trying to make the most of it."
New Zealand are just one step away from winning two world titles in the same year, but they aren't getting ahead of themselves.
"Look, we're a bunch of Kiwis," Mitchell said. "There's only five million of us, so we're obviously very proud to be representing our country. Obviously we've had some success in the last few years. But we're going to enjoy the win tonight, make sure that obviously we celebrate that, but then we move on pretty quickly.
"We know that we have a final on Sunday, and whoever we're taking on should be good fun. We'll give it everything we've got, but at the end of the day there's certain things you can't control, so we'll see what happens."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo