FArewell then, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell. However it ends on Monday, this series will mostly be remembered for England’s revival in a new, exciting and at least temporarily successful form, but this granite pair will forever remain at its heart. While their opponents launched their wild and colorful brush strokes, Mitchell and Blundell patiently set about resculpting the record books.
They entered Matchday Four at Headingley with their last partnership of the summer on their debut just seven points, and with England knowing that a quick breakthrough would almost certainly mean the game would end quickly and in their favour. A few hours later they had added another 86, lunch was on the table and this possibility was not; Mitchell had 44 and Blundell 45, with nothing to separate them at the crease or on the scoreboard.
Throughout the morning, as so often in recent weeks, whatever England tried, they received no encouragement. In particular, their last-ditch tactic – tossing the ball to Jamie Overton, sticking a few defenders from deep and asking the big guy to hit it short – never seemed to succeed against two players who shoot with such restrained authority. Soon after, and in consecutive overs, each reached their half-century with limits.
And then it was over. It was also a shared experience, with both players being given lbw in the same Matt Potts, the first of a new spell.
Blundell was the first, seen immediately, and was pardoned; moments later, Mitchell followed, also immediately saw again, and was not. His score of 56 was his second lowest in a series in which he reached a century in every game.
In sport there is victory and there is irrelevance, and Mitchell and Blundell (standard modern practice would be to take the first half of one name and the second half of the other to produce a practical portmanteau to describe them both, like Brangelina, Benifer, or Labradoodle. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work here) won’t come out on top in this series. But what they have achieved is yet to be celebrated.
They have met six times this summer and, on average, each partnership was worth 120.7 runs. Only once before in this country have a pair hit as many times in a streak and averaged more: Australians David Boon and Mark Waugh in 1993, who had partnerships spanning five centuries, one of them unbroken, in six attempts and an average of 124.4. The main difference between the two accomplishments is that the Boon and Waugh team were playing to vastly outclass their hosts.
Boon also happens to be at Headingley this week, where he is a match referee. When asked if such a string of hits makes two hitters feel more confident each time they’re united in the middle, he replied, disappointingly, that as far back as he can remember, they hadn’t even realized that this had happened. The Guardian’s reporting on this series, now mostly remembered for Shane Warne and his ball of the century, certainly didn’t do much.
The combined efforts of Mitchell and Blundell may not have been enough to win the series, but they turned it into a series of frayed nerves and tight margins, one in which New Zealand only did a few lost takes (several of them, let’s say, by Mitchell) and a passing Colin de Grandhomme with a very different outcome. And they were certainly noticed.
If nothing else, the time they spent in the middle made them impossible to ignore. Apart from Lord’s, Trent Bridge and now Headingley there may be few English people who have spent so much of the last few weeks being forced to watch the same scene repeat itself, and most of them will have been stationed outside Buckingham Palace, wearing bearskin hats and contractually obliged to stay exactly where they were.
England tried 1,417 times to break the partnership and succeeded six times. Over the three matches, their entire team faced 5,042 balls and scored 1,909 runs; while in each other’s company, Mitchell and Blundell faced 28% of those deliveries and scored 38% of the runs (add runs scored while apart and they are dual responsible for 48% of the New Zealand total).
Mitchell and Blundell are physically similar, but it’s easy to tell them apart at the crease. Blundell waits for the ball with sharp angles at the knees and waist, giving him the profile of a cartoon lightning bolt; Mitchell is a bit taller and has soft curves like a swan’s neck, and has played with all the elegance the image suggests.
And for all their successes combined, he had the best lines – three centuries, two fifty, 538 solo runs – with Blundell (just 383, with just one century) as a straight man, dude to the side. end.
They were both magnificent, but in the end it was someone else’s show.