Obituary: Tommy Mitchell

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The Independent Online
Tommy Mitchell was at 93 the oldest surviving English Test player and one of only three cricketers alive who featured in the famous Bodyline series of 1932-3, the others being the Australians Leo O'Brien, aged 88, and Sir Donald Bradman, 87. Mitchell, a tough, humorous little man, enjoyed the distinction.

As a leg spinner in the 1930s when most county clubs had a good one, he was outstanding enough to play five times for England, and it was on Jardine's tour that he twice dismissed the implacable Woodfull in a Test and bowled Bradman, in a State game, with a googly.

A miner, who wore spectacles, Mitchell was spotted bowling at the Creswell colliery pithead during the General Strike of 1926. He was recommended to Derbyshire, who were so impressed by the prodigious turn he achieved that he made his first class debut in 1928 and was an integral part of the county's team for 11 years, taking 1,483 wickets at an average of 20.

Derbyshire finished 3-2-1 in the years 1934-5-6, their only championship, when Mitchell was at the height of his powers, described as merry-hearted but prone to the occasional melancholy that overtakes most spinners. Short- legged but long- armed, he could bowl leg-breaks, topspinners, googlies and off-breaks with almost equal facility and could flight the ball.

In a gentle pre-war profile in the Observer, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow described him as "something of a Donald Duck. No cricketer so conveys to the spectators the perplexities and frustrations of a man at the mercy of malignant fate. He has much in common with the golfer who misses short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in the adjoining meadow."

In Jardine's team Mitchell was close to Larwood, another Midlands miner. Once pressed to reveal all about his mate, Mitchell responded: "Harold doesn't say much. He doesn't have to. He just bowls."

Mitchell bowled his overs quickly, turning sharply at the end of his short run, and his energy and zest was communicated to his fielding where he was described as a brilliant cover point. Mitchell took 100 wickets a season between 1929 and 1938 (168 in 1935 is still a county record), took 10 wickets in a match 29 times and took all 10 Leicestershire wickets, for 64 runs, at Aylestone Road in 1935. When he retired from cricket he went back to the coalface.

In a county, and a team, where the spinner was generally regarded as merely a relief bowler for the regiment of ambitious seamers, Tommy Mitchell was a rare gem.

Thomas Bignall Mitchell, cricketer: born Creswell, Derbyshire 4 September 1902; married 1927 Doris Varcoe (one son, one daughter); died Doncaster 27 January 1996.

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