Every team has a cool guy. The one you can have fun with, the one who’s always making others laugh, the energy-infuser, the mood-lifter, the ‘coffee club’ host. Daryl Mitchell is that guy. He may not have had enough game time in his first IPL stint, but his cheerful spirits have gone a long way in making the Royals dressing room a happy and positive place this season.
Listen to what our Head Coach Kumar Sangakkara had to say:
Son of a former New Zealand rugby player and coach John Mitchell, Daryl made his foray into the first-class circuit over a decade ago with the Northern Districts as a twenty-something. With nearly 5000 runs and 90 wickets across 88 matches, he grew to become one of their most consistent performers over the years. It was only a matter of time before he replicated his form on the international stage. And the opportunity came knocking in 2019. First, a T20I debut against India where he picked his maiden T20I wicket, followed by a late Test call-up to replace Colin de Grandhomme against England. There couldn’t have been a better place for Daryl than the Seddon Park at Hamilton - a city where he was born and raised - to play his first-ever Test match and to score his maiden international fifty. This is where he had dreamed the dream, all along his domestic cricket days with the Districts.
The 2021 T20 World Cup saw Daryl rack up 208 runs in seven matches - the joint second-most for New Zealand. It was a performance that truly substantiated his potential as an impact player. It also gave us a glimpse of who he is as a human being. In a high-pressure chase in the semi-final against England, he accidentally collided with bowler Adil Rashid at the non-striker’s end. New Zealand needed 34 runs in three overs, and at the other end was an eager Jimmy Neesham, who had run almost halfway down the pitch after hitting the ball hard. But Daryl refused the single, thinking he had unintentionally obstructed the bowler in his follow-through. New Zealand went on to win the match and qualify for the final, thanks to his unbeaten 72. It was a proud moment for Daddy Mitchell, who had traveled halfway around the world to watch his son bat. The ICC recognised Daryl’s gesture, declaring him as the winner of the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award for 2021.
“The spirit of cricket is very important. It is a platform for young cricketers to watch and learn and to get inspired to play the game and go about winning it in the right way. At the end of the day, it is just a game, and it is a game that we all love, and we are very lucky to be able to do that in the right way,” Daryl had said in his award-acceptance speech.
A few days after winning the award, Daryl was picked by the Royals for his first IPL season in a record purchase spree at the mega auction. Deservingly so.
And although he had to wait for seven games to make his debut, he showed great resilience when the time finally came. Against RCB at Pune, the Royals were in a spot of bother, having lost four big wickets inside 10 overs. While Riyan Parag began his rescuing act at one end, Daryl dug deep into the anchoring role at the other. It was a low-scoring encounter, the pitch wasn’t the easiest to bat on, but together the duo added 31 crucial runs to the team’s total. Daryl scored 16 of those. The Royals eventually won by 29 runs.
It may not have been the most ideal start Daryl would’ve wanted, personally. But to come into the side in a tough situation and contribute immediately speaks volumes of his readiness. The readiness to put in the effort, no matter how big or small, as long as it helped the team. He played just one more match in the season, but that didn’t stop him from continuously training hard to hone his all-round skills, the fruits of which he would go on to enjoy in the following weeks.
“I love playing the game with a smile on my face, but I’m also a fierce competitor.”
We’ve seen that smile quite a few times lately. Whether it’s him playing pranks on his Kiwi compatriots in the bubble, or sweating it out at the practice sessions between match days, or simply stirring up a cup of hot coffee for his teammates in his hotel room. We definitely saw that smile a few weeks ago - at Lord’s, at Nottingham and at Leeds - where his bat did the talking, announcing his arrival in the longest format of the game. Three centuries, including an entry on the prestigious Lord’s Honours Board, and two fifties in three Tests against England - he kept middling every ball that came his way, and the runs kept flowing.
Daryl’s exploits with the bat coupled with his medium-pace seam bowling, and the ability to seamlessly adapt to the different formats make him an integral part of any team that he plays for. And while there’s plenty of potential waiting to be unlocked on the IPL’s grand stage, the 31-year-old has already made his case internationally. His performance in the T20 World Cup showcased his firepower as a hard-hitting middle-order batter capable of handling pressure and delivering under it. His time in the IPL showed how one doesn’t necessarily need to be in the Playing XI to be able to contribute to the team’s overall success. And his latest heroics in England proved to be a testament to the rapid improvement he’s shown in a span of just 12 Test matches, bringing in the temperament and the much-needed patience at the Test level.
Married his best friend, became a doting dad of two daughters, makes excellent coffee, takes the front seat in your cheering squad. And oh, he has a Test ton at Lord’s too. Pretty cool, right?