New Zealand hero Daryl Mitchell relishing new opener role with the T20 World Cup finalists

Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 November 2021

New Zealand hero Daryl Mitchell relishing new opener role with the T20 World Cup finalists

Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
  • As his team prepares to take on Australia in the final on Sunday, he reflected on his new role and the experience of the competition so far

DUBAI: Less than a month ago, Daryl Mitchell had never opened the batting in a T20 match. Then, at the Tolerance Oval in Abu Dhabi, in the shadow of Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, in front of a handful of fans, the New Zealand coaches decided to take a chance on the 30-year-old as opener, during a World Cup warm-up match against Australia.

Mitchell, the son of a former All Black rugby star, hit 33 not out off 22 balls. Team captain Kane Williamson and the New Zealand management were so impressed by the way he went after the Australian attack they decided he would be their opener during the T20 World Cup.

Mitchell said that because some teammates who play in the Indian Premier League were unavailable for the warm-up games, he was presented with an opportunity to show his worth to the Black Caps.

“For me, it was just about playing the way that I want to play and to have the backing from Kane and Steady (head coach Gary Stead) as well,” he said. “Any chance you get to play for your country, you jump on it. So as soon as I got asked to do the job, I was really excited.”

Mitchell has repaid the faith shown in him by reaching double figures in all of his innings in the weeks that followed, including 49 against pre-tournament favorites India that helped propel New Zealand to a crucial victory.

Fast forward to Wednesday evening and a somewhat windy Abu Dhabi that was a far cry from that scorching and sweaty night in mid October when Mitchell opened the batting for the first time. New Zealand faced England, with a place in the World Cup Final at stake. The stage had shifted from the Tolerance Oval to the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, where thousands of spectators were watching the match, including Mitchell’s parents. Millions more around the world were watching live coverage of the match.

Chasing 167, wickets fell around him, but Mitchell survived and continued grafting. With 57 runs still needed off 24 deliveries, he was still there but it seemed as if the Black Caps were up against it. Mitchell and teammate Jimmy Neesham thought otherwise.

“It never felt like it was out of our reach, and we knew that some of the match-ups might suit us towards the end,” said Mitchell.

Neesham turned the game on its head with a blistering 27 but when he was out, the job remained unfinished. Step forward Mitchell, who timed his innings to perfection as he smashed 20 in the penultimate over to send New Zealand to their first-ever T20 World Cup Final.

In a player-of-the-match performance he recorded his highest score for New Zealand in a T20 and, after hitting the winning runs, he embraced teammate, and childhood friend, Mitchell Santner in a moment neither of them will forget.

“He’s one of my best mates, we’ve known each other since we were kids, so to be out in the middle together for the winning runs in a World Cup semi-final is pretty cool,” said Mitchell.

Yet such is the focus and determination of this Black Caps outfit, the day after his stunning performance Mitchell was clear about the fact that the job is still not done.

“It’s nice to help contribute to winning a game of cricket for your country, let alone the semi-final of a World Cup,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t come here to win a semi-final, we came to win a trophy.”

After all, this is a tournament New Zealand have yet to win, and after losing in the finals of the 50-over World Cup in 2015 and 2019, the are hoping that Sunday’s final in Dubai will be their turn finally to cross the finishing line.

The will face Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, and Mitchell and his teammates see it as an opportunity to make history and to do their country proud.

“We’re very proud of where we come from and who we are as Kiwis,” said Mitchell. “To know that we’ve got 5 million people sitting back at home supporting us in the early hours of the morning, it’s something we’re very grateful for and we love wearing that Silver Fern on our chest.

“Sunday will be pretty special. It’ll be about enjoying the moment, playing with a smile on our face and competing, because at the end of the day, days like this don’t come around very often. We’re going to have as much fun as we can and hopefully we can walk away with that trophy.”