Final flicker of the light

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The Independent Online
DURING the Test series which threatened to split cricket asunder, Tommy Mitchell, who died yesterday, was a light in the dark. As a leg- spinner he was hardly central to England's quest to reclaim the Ashes but his importance to the Bodyline tour was inestimable. He forged a close relationship with Harold Larwood, the chief executioner of the theory that gave England superiority and almost caused a severance of diplomatic relations with Australia. It was a natural alliance, for both men came from pit villages in the Midlands, and both had worked at the coal face.

But Mitchell was more than a pal to Harold. He illuminated the whole proceedings. At the moment when all seemed lost and the Englishmen were being cast as black-hearted villains, an Australian paper reported: "In these days when it requires only a touch of flame to destroy the edifice which has been erected round cricket between England and Australia, a personality like that of Mitchell is like a safety valve."

The merry-hearted cricketer, as he became known, played in only one Test of that tour but it was the fourth, at Brisbane, where England achieved their ultimate goal. Mitchell dismissed the Australian captain, Bill Woodfull, in both innings.

Mitchell was 30 and it was the first of his five Tests for England. Recalling the tour recently, he said: "Harold never said much. He didn't have to. He wasn't bothered by all the trouble. He just bowled." Tommy also divulged that his fondest memory of the tour was perhaps not the clinching Test win but a state game against New South Wales, when he snared Bradman with a googly for nought.

After Bodyline, Mitchell continued to reap rich harvests of wickets for Derbyshire. And almost every time he played for his country something significant happened. In New Zealand, Wally Hammond made 336 not out, then the highest Test score. In Mitchell's fourth Test, Bradman scored 304 at Headingley; his fifth and last was Herbert Sutcliffe's 54th and last.

Mitchell, a huge spinner of the ball with a singular run-up, took 100 wickets in a season 10 times for Derbyshire and 1,483 in his career. He was an integral part of the finest side in the county's history: in consecutive Championship seasons they finished third, second and then, in 1936 and for the only time, first.

In 1935 he had taken all 10 Leicestershire wickets in an innings. After he retired he returned to the coal face, this time in South Yorkshire, where he stayed.