Daryl Mitchell: Wisden Cricketer of the Year – The Almanack
The Five Cricketers of the Year represent a tradition that dates back in Wisden to 1889, making this the oldest individual award in cricket. In 2023, Daryl Mitchell was one of the five.
Anyone looking to construct an identikit picture blending belief, perseverance and versatility might find Daryl Mitchell’s likeness staring back. That ability to adjust to new environments may explain his extraordinary success during the Test series in England. A calf injury to Henry Nicholls meant he slotted in at No.5 for the opening game – and, in the second innings, he became the 15th New Zealander to score a Test century at Lord’s, getting there during a big partnership with Tom Blundell.
The euphoria was palpable, and his innings appeared to take control of the match – until England pulled off the first of three stunning run-chases. But, for tracts of each contest, Mitchell remained invincible. After Lord’s, he made 190 and 62 not out at Nottingham, putting on another 236 with Blundell – New Zealand’s highest for the fifth wicket, and their highest for any wicket in England. There were two more century stands at Headingley, where Mitchell scored 109 and 56. His unbridled power meshed with Blundell’s impish elegance – the gladiator and the matador.
The stats confirmed the scale of his achievement. Mitchell joined Mark Burgess, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and Kane Williamson as the only New Zealanders to score hundreds in three successive Tests, though he alone made them all overseas. He became the second visiting batsman, after Don Bradman, to score a century in each of the first three Tests of a series in England. And, in series of three matches or fewer there, only Graham Gooch had scored more than his 538 runs at 107. “I’m a cricket purist at heart,” says Mitchell, “so to achieve those things at those grounds is cool – especially playing in front of full stadiums post-Covid with the crowd in full voice.”
Yet his golden summer nearly didn’t happen. Mitchell had to get permission – via negotiations between New Zealand Cricket and Rajasthan Royals – to leave the IPL early, so he could play in a warm-up game at Chelmsford. Fortunately, he is no stranger to patience: he had waited more than seven years between his first game for Northern Districts, in December 2011, and his international debut, a T20 against India at Wellington in February 2019. By then, he was 27.
He has become a valuable nugget, filling multiple roles across all formats. In Tests, he began at No.7, then rose to No.3 in India, before dropping to No.6 against Bangladesh, then moving up to No.5 against South Africa and England. He was also anointed to succeed Taylor at first slip. Asked to be a makeshift T20 opener, he guided New Zealand into the World Cup final in Dubai in November 2021 with a match-winning innings against England in Abu Dhabi. As he puts it: “Versatility is part of my skillset.”
There had been few expectations when he strode out to bat on Test debut at Seddon Park, Hamilton – then his home ground – on the second day of the Second Test against England in late 2019. One–nil up, New Zealand were teetering at 191-5, but Mitchell looked to the manner born, making a disciplined 73 in four hours and ten minutes, and adding 124 with BJ Watling, his provincial mentor. Yet he played consecutive matches only once in his first six Tests.
“I was just grateful to get that first opportunity,” he says. “There was a time when I thought it might not happen, given the squad had so many world-class players. I had to keep believing my time would come. Looking back, it’s a blessing I didn’t get a crack too early. It allowed me to work through some good and bad years, and learn from some of the best.”
Mitchell credits Watling and former Test batsman Dean Brownlie with helping him establish the character to cope at the top level. “BJ was so hardworking, and Dean and I had the same batting coach [Neil “Noddy” Holder] from our Perth days, so we looked at the game similarly, in terms of technique and style. I came across Noddy when I was 15, and he’s been a mentor since.”
DARYL JOSEPH MITCHELL was born in Hamilton, in the heart of the Waikato farming district, on May 20, 1991. His upbringing was nomadic: he, mum Kay and younger sister Ciara followed dad John – a former All Blacks coach – around the rugby world, from Sale in Manchester to London, then back to New Zealand, before moving over to Western Australia. That last destination – where John coached the Force in Super Rugby – provided a nursery for Mitchell’s attacking approach on the state’s fast and bouncy pitches during his final years of high school.
By observing the environments in which his father operated, he came to understand the commitment required to succeed in professional sport. “As a kid, I’d go to training and spend school holidays watching guys go about their business. I played rugby at school and made rep teams, but cricket was always my love. I was a slow first-five anyway: if I got through a gap, I’d have to pass, because I immediately got caught. I also didn’t want to get my dad’s ears [cauliflowered from years in the scrum]. They’re cooked.”
Mitchell learned, too, the value of trust. Asked to keep news of his Wisden selection confidential until publication, he replied: “I’ve got no problem keeping a secret: when I was at school, I used to know the All Black teams before anyone else.”
In 2020, given his raft of playing commitments, Mitchell and his wife, Amy, moved their two pre-school daughters, Addison and Lily, from Hamilton to Christchurch, where he scored his maiden Test century, against Pakistan in January 2021. Amy’s family is based there, providing a sturdy support network.
“I realised I’d be away more – and with Northern Districts having at least three home grounds, you spend half your home games away too,” he says. “It was cool to come to a young Canterbury team and work as an experienced all-rounder, as opposed to being stuck at ND with a number of Black Caps and potentially less opportunity. Plus, I enjoy batting at Hagley Oval.”
Mitchell’s dividends have justified the journey.
The Five Cricketers of the Year are picked by the editor, and the selection is based, primarily but not exclusively, on the players’ influence on the previous English season. No one can be chosen more than once.