Given the general air of positivity that usually circulates around New Zealand cricket it is unlikely to be a point that they will dwell on, but things – in an already quietly disappointing series for the tourists – could have been a lot worse.
But for a slight calf injury to Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell would not have played in the first Test at Lord’s, he might not have even appeared in the series at all – and as Day One at Headingley proved once again, without him New Zealand’s summer sojourn in England would be looking even bleaker than it already does.
Mitchell has been the standout for the Black Caps, coming into this Test no man on either side had scored more runs than his 373 – with two hundreds and a fifty in four innings this series he has been New Zealand’s model of consistently in a faintly underwhelming tour.
And obviously because this is cricket, what was Mitchell’s reward for all this? A demotion one place down the order as New Zealand rejigged their line up for the third Test. Fortunately for the Black Caps it was not a slight that the all-rounder took to heart, picking up where he left off at Trent Bridge on another otherwise difficult day for the tourists.
It was not of course meant to go like this for New Zealand, winning the toss and batting on a gloriously sunny Leeds day they would have been dreaming of piling on the runs against a largely untested England attack. It was a reverie Stuart Broad, that attack’s one bastion of experience, shattered inside six balls – Tom Latham nibbling to first slip without a run even on the board.
By the time Mitchell came to the crease, New Zealand were 83/4, the wheels if not quite coming off then starting to wobble a little ominously. There was a slice of luck early on – England failing to review when Matt Potts had him trapped in front LBW having made just 8, a reprieve he did his best to capitalize from.
At the close he was unbeaten on 78, his 102-run partnership with the other thorn in England’s side this series, Tom Blundell, taking New Zealand to a more respectable 225/5.
It was an innings of superb control – indeed since statisticians CricViz have started measuring these things, only two batsmen have scored more than 300 runs in a series and had a lower percentage of false shots than Mitchell’s 11% – leaving his average in the series overnight over 150, a number that would still be an unworldly 112.75 should he be dismissed first ball tomorrow.
Presumably however in order to balance the scales of cricketing justice, the gods did have one morsel of misfortune lined up for Mitchell, his unwitting participation in the dismissal of Henry Nicholls.
It was a moment to launch a thousand tweets, Nicholls’ firmly struck drive down the ground ricocheting off Mitchell’s bat – the middle naturally, given the series he is having – and looping up to a grateful Alex Lees at mid off. Another freakish dismissal to add to the sport’s rich pantheon.
That moment aside it was another stellar day for Mitchell, the extent of his value to this New Zealand side might not have been apparent before the start of the series, there can be no doubting it now.