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Match Analysis

Underplayed to the point of parody, is Daryl Mitchell the uber-Kiwi?

He does what's right for his team, and does it with an extraordinary lack of fanfare

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
10-Jun-2022
Daryl Mitchell continued his fine form from Lord's with another vital innings  •  PA Images/Getty

Daryl Mitchell continued his fine form from Lord's with another vital innings  •  PA Images/Getty

There isn't a way to ask this question without it coming across as slightly patronising but, on the evidence of at least two innings in this series and the body of work over the last couple of years, it's impossible not to ask: is Daryl Mitchell the most Kiwi player ever?
This isn't, rest assured, another paean to the plucky, lovable New Zealander underdog but, I mean, it's uncanny how many boxes Mitchell ticks. How, if you wrote up a pen profile of the Successful, Modern New Zealand Cricketer, if you didn't arrive at Daryl Mitchell, you'd have taken a very wrong turn somewhere.
First and foremost, there's the All Blacks' connection which, by now, can have escaped nobody who has been following his career (if, somehow, it has, Google it). Small country, one big sport, one younger sibling of a sport - there can't fail to be linkages.
There's the relatively late arrival onto the international scene at the age of 27, after 210 domestic games and eight seasons. All that time, away from the fierce and often debilitating glare of international cricket, developing quietly yet steadily, putting together a solid if unspectacular record before, boom, Daryl Mitchell is here, nice and ripe, more or less fully formed and winning international games.
That ties into the vital quality of unexpectedness about the best New Zealand players and performances, that these players have been sprung one by one upon unsuspecting opponents and then, the world. Daryl who? England twigged first, on his Test debut, then Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and then the world.
Where on earth has he come from? How's he so good at this?
Sometimes that unexpectedness turns upon itself. Mitchell had never opened in a T20 game before New Zealand decided to turn him into a T20 opener. At a world event. To extremely good effect. He had gone there as a finisher because he'd hit more sixes than anyone in the Super Smash over five years. Against England in the T20 World Cup semis he opened. He also finished.
At various times in their modern history, every New Zealand cricketer has felt like they arrived with more than one skill. They did one thing really well and then they did everything else pretty well too. Mitchell bowls tidy medium-somethings, no doubt in preparation for that day somewhere down the line where he picks up a cheap Test five-fer, or defends 12 off the last over of a T20 where that might be the only over he's bowled in that tournament. It would be a very Kiwi thing to happen.
Maximising. Squeezing the most out of himself. Except that this does sound patronising, that he is some limited athlete constantly straining to be more than the sum of his parts. He has bowled at the death in the Super Smash because he is obviously good at it, because he is an elite cricketer with skills to burn, who has grown up around an elite athletic environment.
He underplays himself nearly to the point of parody. If you thought you'd heard it all when it came to the modest, humble New Zealand cricketer, check this out, from an interview with the Daily Telegraph about his hundred at Lord's:
"I'll cherish that for the rest of my life," he said. "I've got a pic with my family that we'll frame. My place in the dressing room was just under the honours board with some of the greats of the game. I don't think I deserve to be there with them. But it's something I'll savour forever."
It goes without saying that he comes across as the kind of guy who'd be unruffled or unfazed in an earthquake. It also goes without saying that the two innings of note he's now played in this series have both come with New Zealand in different degrees of crisis: serious at Lord's, a milder one at Trent Bridge.
You know this script so well now it doesn't need pointing out that Mitchell would not even have played at Lord's if Henry Nicholls had been fit. Of course, he wouldn't. And yet here he is, their best batter so far. Because, Kiwi.
What has stood out, repeatedly since his debut but with growing clarity on this tour, is how uncomplicated he makes batting to be. Perhaps it is the contrast with this particular moment in the English game, with the overwrought and overthought handwringing about red-ball batting. Tied down as that is in details about techniques, like the guard batters are taking, or the mindset in playing spin, or to bigger-picture worries about the most opportune time to schedule the County Championship so that batters can learn to bat, or how the white-ball game is hacking away at red-ball batting.
Batting isn't easy, of course, and it can get very complicated. But it speaks to some essential difference in how cricket is run in both countries, even how cricket sits in those countries, that Mitchell was a makeshift T20 opener who won a semi-final against England's T20 specialists and has since scored runs against their Test specialists after playing in the IPL.
Sure, he had some luck at Trent Bridge. He should've been gone for three. But he played as if he didn't need luck in the first place, or that he was overly grateful having receiving it. He hit balls he felt he could to the boundary, he played out everything else. He has a decent record against spin so wasted no time in taking advantage when Jack Leach came on. He hit him over the top only because every time he did, it was the best option. He reverse-swept only because every time he did, it was the best option. When England went short, he didn't stop playing. He pulled and hooked whatever he could, even if he did get pinged late in the day, and he left what he couldn't reach.
Breaking it down like this makes it sound like dumbing down an innings that changed the course of the day, but it isn't. At Lord's Tom Blundell was asked several times to break down his partnership with Mitchell, possibly because he wasn't responding in any great depth about it. That, though, was the point. They went after balls they felt equipped to hit and played out the rest. Simple enough.
Which says something about how this New Zealand side have become world Test champions. And which, in turn, leads us back to the question at the start. The problem is not that it is patronising as much as it shouldn't be phrased as a question in the first place. It should begin as the answer that, yes, Daryl Mitchell is completely representative of all that is the very best about New Zealand cricket and her cricketers.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo