Daryl Mitchell is ready to blast off

The allrounder has come off a breakout domestic summer to land himself a New Zealand central contract. Now he's got his eye on the big prize - the T20 World Cup

Deivarayan Muthu
Daryl Mitchell looks on during a New Zealand training session, New Zealand Cricket High Performance Centre, Lincoln, May 13, 2021

"I pride my ability to adapt to whatever position that I have to bat at - No. 3-4 or in the middle or late overs"  •  Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Daryl Mitchell has his first Black Caps jumper framed on his wall at home. It shares space with his dad John Mitchell's All Black jersey - John is a former New Zealand rugby team player and coach. Now Daryl can soon add his first World Cup jersey to the wall.
With his imposing frame, Mitchell Jr wouldn't have been out of place in the All Blacks side - he played rugby in school during winters. "I'm naturally probably a little gifted in terms of size. I should've probably been a rugby player [rather] than a cricketer," he says. But those traits have served him well in cricket too, where he has built a reputation as a power-hitter.
"I use my strong base and size to my advantage," he says. "Obviously, the power side of it is one of my strengths and I try to utilise it when the opportunity arises. We're lucky in New Zealand that we play on some pretty good wickets and can hit through the line."
In June 2020, after a decade with Northern Districts, Mitchell moved to Canterbury, and enjoyed a breakout domestic summer, winning the Plunket Shield as well as the 50-over Ford Trophy with his new team. He was also the first player to the double of 300-plus runs and ten-plus wickets in the 2020-21 Super Smash.
"Anytime you move to a new environment, you have a whole new group of players you get to learn from and become best mates with," Mitchell says. "I was honoured to play for Northern Districts for ten years and grow up alongside Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee and Kane Williamson, and learn off them. But for me to be able to go to Canterbury and to be the main allrounder there, to try to win games and play with the likes of Tom Latham and Matt Henry, it was a really refreshing stage of my career. We were lucky to win two trophies out of three in domestic cricket last year and hopefully we can keep doing that in the future."
It also spurred him to international success across formats. He scored his maiden Test hundred, against Pakistan in Christchurch in January this year, and followed it up with his maiden ODI century against Bangladesh in March. It culminated in his first New Zealand central contract and a spot in the T20 World Cup squad.
"I haven't focused on anything specifically," Mitchell says. "I guess just having that dominant allrounder role with Canterbury at the start of the summer, in the Super Smash, Plunket Shield, and then to be able to take it to New Zealand, whether it's Test cricket or the white-ball stuff. Just being able to have a more dominant role with bat and ball. For me, it's the most important thing, trying to win games for the team, and that sort of allows my personal ambitions to take care of itself."
Mitchell has built on his reputation of being a power-hitter in the New Zealand team, and more recently in the Vitality T20 Blast he struck at nearly 145 for Middlesex. The slow and low conditions in the UAE at the T20 World Cup, however, could seriously challenge his big-hitting skills. Mitchell says it's not something he's worried about, no matter where he slots in the line-up.
"I pride my ability to be able to adapt to whatever position that I have to bat at - No. 3-4 or in the middle or late overs," he says. "Especially in international cricket, you need to be able to adjust to different situations and different scenarios at any batting position from No. 1 to 7. It's never the same every innings."
He has often fronted up to bowl at the death for both Northern Districts and Canterbury in domestic cricket. His yorkers have been difficult to get away in the Super Smash, and now he is working on adding to his variations.
"I didn't do a hell of a lot [of death bowling] at the start of my career," Mitchell says. "It's something I pushed for a few years. It doesn't come off every day. It's high-risk, high-reward stuff, but when it comes off, you win games of cricket for your team. It brings out the passionate side of me, which I enjoy.
"We have to constantly keep adjusting to different surfaces and conditions. You can't be a one-trick pony these days in international cricket. All of the boys in New Zealand pride themselves on adjusting to whatever situation we need to, and we make sure we try and practise those to have all the bases covered as much as we can. It doesn't always come off, but if you prepare well, you give yourself the best chance."
During the England tour earlier this year, Mitchell caught up with his father who was the England rugby team's defence coach until the Autumn Series. John has now moved to a new role with the Wasps Rugby backroom. Before Mitchell Jr began playing regularly for New Zealand, he also had a stint with Waikato Rugby Union as their assistant strength and conditioning coach, a role that made him understand that there's life beyond cricket.
"I think it's very important to have interests outside of the game, otherwise you sort of get consumed by cricket the whole time," he says. "So for me to be able to go to Waikato Rugby for a couple of years as an assistant trainer... It's potentially a role I sort of want to get into post cricket, so to be able to see how they go about their day-to-day as professional athletes is pretty interesting."
You just can't take rugby out of the Mitchells, and the son has played much of his cricket in his father's shadow, but this World Cup is his chance to carve out his own identity. The job at hand won't be easy, though. New Zealand, and Mitchell, will have to contend with India and Pakistan in Group Two.
"Obviously, it will be a challenging pool," he says, "to get through that and win those games, you give yourself a chance to win the big prize, which is what we are looking forward to. So, anytime you play for New Zealand you want to win games for sure."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo