On Friday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Worcestershire’s captain Daryl Mitchell exclusively for LastWordOnSports.
Mitchell, 32, is Worcestershire born and bred, and first signed a contract with the county in 2003. Since his debut in 2005, he has made 367 appearances in all formats for the club, and has been captain since the end of the 2010 season. He has been awarded a benefit year for 2016 in return for his great service to Worcestershire, and more information on that can be found here.
After a convincing win against Oxford MCCU in which you, Joe Clarke and Brett D’Oliveira were all in the runs, how frustrating was it to start the season with a four-day washout against Kent?
We had a good pre-season really; all the batters have got runs, the bowlers have got a lot of miles in their legs and we were raring to go last Sunday against Kent. We were hoping to start the season extremely well but unfortunately the weather intervened and it was not to be.
New Road has been almost synonymous with flooding over the past few seasons. Do you think that might affect your promotion bid this season?
No, I don’t think so. We were out there Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the ground looked fantastic and it was in good nick. Unfortunately we had a deluge on rain on Saturday evening and it just washed out this game really. There was a lot of rain on Saturday afternoon and evening and then I think it rained all day Sunday, so it was obviously a lot of rain in a short space of time, and it made conditions not fit for play.
Obviously the main goal in the Championship this year will be to go up. How big an impact will New Zealand seamer Matt Henry, who is with the club until the end of June, have on your title hopes?
Yeah, I mean, we’re hoping a big impact. He’s here for the first three months of the season and then Kyle Abbott takes over from him, so we’ve got a world-class seam bowler right throughout the season. Hopefully they can get some wickets with the new ball and put us in good positions to win games. Obviously you’ve got to take twenty wickets to win a four-day match and hopefully they can contribute a long way towards that.
With Henry, Abbott and Mitchell Santner all playing for the club at various points over the summer, you’ve recruited some big names. What sort of impact do overseas players like that have on a young squad like yours?
Obviously what they bring on the pitch is important to us in terms of wickets and runs, but also what you get from overseas players in the dressing room such as Ed Barnard, Charlie Morris and Josh Tongue to see how these fast bowlers operate and try and pick their brains, have a chat to them about their one-day skills as well as their four-day cricket and try to learn something off them. It certainly adds experience and international quality to our dressing room.
Do you think it’s possible for Worcestershire to compete in all three formats this summer?
Yeah, absolutely. I think, if we’re honest, we haven’t played particularly well in one-day cricket over recent seasons. In four-day cricket, we’ve been up and down a bit as we’ve had a lot of success in Division Two, not so much in Division One, and in Twenty20 we’ve made three out of the past four quarter-finals, so we’ve been pretty consistent in that format. So with those two, we’re looking to perform as we have done, but one-day cricket is where we’re looking to make our biggest improvement. You look at a side like Gloucestershire, who won the competition, and it just goes to show that if you get a decent team unit – there’s not too many star names down there – it shows what can be done if you get things right both tactically and through gaining confidence in that format of the game, so that’s certainly an area we’ll be looking to improve on this year.
How has the squad coped with the news of Tom Fell’s testicular cancer over the course of the winter?
There’s never a good time for something like that, but it was the end of last season, and as a group we’ve had six months to process what’s happened to Felly. I wouldn’t say it’s brought us any closer together necessarily. Most of the young lads are a very close-knit group anyway; Worcester’s a small city and a lot of the lads live together and spend a lot of time socialising with each other, so we’re a pretty tight-knit group as it was. It’s certainly had its effect, and there’s a lot of sadness around the place, but Felly has helped that in how positive he is and his outlook on things. He’s come up to New Road a couple of times, and he’s dealing with it extremely well, and that’s helped the rest of the group to be there and support him in every way we can.
How big is it for a club like Worcestershire to have Moeen Ali in the England squad, as proof to guys like Ross Whiteley and Joe Clarke that they can fulfil their international ambitions at New Road?
Mo’s our shining light really on the international scene. Obviously he played in the recent World T20 and has played in all formats for England, so he’s certainly a guy that our lads look up to and have an immense amount of respect for. Mo still comes into New Road pretty regularly, does a lot of training here and we’ve got him for the next three four-day games this year, which is a great asset. It certainly proves that you can achieve your goals. There’s a lot of guys, not just the two you mentioned who’ve been on Lions tours, but there’s other guys around in the squad who have England ambitions and want to play at the highest level, and Mo is proof that that can be done whilst at Worcestershire, and it’s vital from our club’s point of view that we keep this bunch of players together and performing well. We could probably put out the same side in five or ten years time – well, probably with the exception of myself – and we’ll be putting the same fifteen or sixteen lads on the park.
From a personal point of view, do you feel that there’s any added responsibility on you this year after the departures of Alex Gidman and Gareth Andrew, as the only player over the age of thirty on the books, or is it a case of business as usual?
I think business as usual to be honest. Obviously being captain you’re in that role of responsibility and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well anyway. Losing Gaz and Giddo has been a bit of a blow experience-wise, but at the same time everyone here is a year older, a year wiser, and whilst we’ve got some young guys in the squad in terms of age, they’ve actually all played a fair amount of cricket now; there’s a fair amount of first-class games in there. I guess it’s my role to lead from the front as captain, but I wouldn’t say it’s different to any other year. My job, as with any of the guys in the top six, seven or eight, is to score as many runs as I can and put in performances to win games for Worcestershire.
I’m sure it’s a source of great pride to be awarded a benefit year for 2016. How much do you think the county game has changed since your debut?
Immensely. I joined the staff in 2003, the year Twenty20 arrived, and that’s brought about a lot of changes. The Twenty20 competition’s becoming a more and more important part of English cricket, and there’s more emphasis on Twenty20 cricket than there was back in 2005 when I first played. Then, it was a fun part of the summer where you had a bit of a laugh for two weeks and tried to slog a few out of the ground. It’s developed skill levels in particular with white-ball cricket, with some of the shots people are playing now and the athleticism in the field, different deliveries – ten or twelve years ago, I’d never heard of a slower ball bouncer and now it’s part of pretty much every one-day and Twenty20 game you see. The game’s certainly evolved from a skill level point of view, at the detriment maybe to four-day cricket. People aren’t quite prepared to bat as long and see out difficult periods. Scoring rates have gone up in four-day cricket and the game seems to be moving forward faster, and that skill of batting a day seems to have gone out of the game a little bit.
Do you think that Twenty20 has changed the county game for the better? Obviously you’ve been a bit of a pioneer yourself regarding innovation, what with setting a field without a wicket-keeper last summer at Northampton.
I think so. It’s exciting, isn’t it? I think the most important thing is to come here for a Twenty20 at New Road when you come here, you get a full house, great atmosphere, and you see kids running around and hopefully being inspired to take up and play the game. From that point of view, it’s had massive benefits to English cricket. From a global point of view, Twenty20’s obviously brought a lot more finance into the game with things like the IPL and the Big Bash, so the benefits certainly far outweigh any negative effect it’s had on four-day cricket. It’s here to stay; looking further down the line I’d imagine it’ll take a more and more prominent part of any cricket calendar.
What do you make of the changes to the toss rules this season?
It’s an interesting one. I think the ECB have done it for the right reasons. I think they’re trying to improve standards of pitches and in recent years, if I’m honest, with the pressure of trying to get results and win games to get promotion or avoid relegation, the standards of pitches in Division Two particularly have certainly dropped. There’s far too many games that have finished in two, two-and-a-half, maybe three days when obviously you’d like for-day cricket to last four days with a result on the last evening, that’d be the ideal cricket wicket. I think if you look around the county circuit there’s too many medium-pacers dropping the ball on a length and getting fifty to eighty wickets a year and not having to work hard enough for their wickets, and that’s probably to the detriment of spin bowling. There’s been less and less spin overs bowled in county cricket in recent years and I think that’s probably had an effect on the quality of spin bowlers that we’re producing or certainly the amount of spin bowlers we’re producing in county cricket at the moment. There’s good logic behind the toss rules. Whether or not it works will remain to be seen, but I think it’s certainly worth a go, and credit to the ECB for being an innovator and giving it a crack to see what happens. If it doesn’t work, they’ll revert back if that’s the right thing to do.
What do you make of the structure of the county game at the moment? Is there a feasible way of fitting three formats and eighteen counties into the domestic calendar without complaints?
I think, certainly, that the three formats are here to stay. County cricket or any domestic competition needs to mirror international cricket and I think Test cricket’s here to stay, ODIs are here to stay and obviously T20 as well, so I think three formats will always be here. How big a competition, how long, how many games etc. I’m not sure. I think change will certainly happen. It’s difficult to foresee what’ll happen. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, I like the eighteen counties. These county clubs have been around for the most part of 150 years, the majority of them, they’ve been around for a long, long time and it’d be a shame to lose that history. In terms of symmetry, it’s obviously difficult to get symmetry and reduce four-day cricket with that number [of teams]. What will happen in the future? I don’t know, but I think that Twenty20 is certainly starting to take a more prominent role.
Do you think a city-based, franchise T20 tournament could ever work in England?
No, I don’t, I’m not convinced by it. It’s talked about a lot, but I think our system is very different to anywhere else’s, and our weather is very different to the majority of places that play cricket as well, so I’m not sure it will. I’m not sure how many, for example, Worcestershire fans would travel to Edgbaston to watch a Birmingham team and it’d be a crying shame to see that competition in the middle of the summer where all the kids are off school and they’d be no cricket at the likes of New Road, Taunton, Hove, places like that; I think that’d be sad to see.