Mitchell hoping to add more scalps to a fine collection before calling it a day

PUBLISHED: 14:00 26 June 2020

Keith Mitchell celebrates a wicket for Navestock (pic George Phillipou/TGS Photo)

Keith Mitchell celebrates a wicket for Navestock (pic George Phillipou/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo +44 1376 553468

Keith Mitchell would surely have been adding to his impressive haul of wickets during the 2020 season, were it not suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Keith Mitchell and the Essex over-60s celebrate their national title in 2014Keith Mitchell and the Essex over-60s celebrate their national title in 2014

The 70-year-old estimates to having taken ‘around 3,000’ in a career stretching back to 1965, the majority of them for Ardleigh Green, before joining Mid-Essex League Navestock, and the Essex over-60s and over-70s.

But he expected to be slowing down his schedule, saying: “I’ve moved to Hertfordshire and wasn’t sure what I’d be doing at weekends. This year I would’ve probably just played over-70s.

“I was playing four games a week – Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – and have always been reasonably fit, but I’m putting on a bit around the middle!”

Mitchell’s cricketing journey began ‘by mistake’ while he was a schoolboy at Abbs Cross.

Keith Mitchell with former Essex and England captain Graham GoochKeith Mitchell with former Essex and England captain Graham Gooch

“I had a little gardening job in Upminster, cutting grass on Saturdays, money was more important,” he said.

“But I’d stopped and scored some runs in a house match in the fourth year and then started taking a lot of wickets. We had a very successful 1st XI and about six of us joined Ardleigh Green at the same time.

“That was my introduction to adult cricket. They didn’t have colts, but you were picked if they were short, as a 15-year-old. They had just started a 3rd XI and we augmented that.”

Green were playing on one of the two pitches at Harold Wood Rec at the time, with Harold Wood on the other, using a traditional wooden pavilion – with no bar or showers.

Mitchell explained how they were due to have a new pavilion built by Hornchurch Council, as it was then, but after a merger with Romford Council the project was deemed too expensive.

The club were instead offered use of the Central Park ground in Harold Hill, which became Mitchell’s second home up until 2015 and the scene of many great memories.

He added: “I went into the 1st XI when I was 17 or 18 and we won six league titles from 1976-87. It wasn’t one of the most fashionable clubs but we attracted a lot of good, young players.

“The 1st XI had phenomenal success in the league, but so did the 2s, 3s and 4s. If you add up all the titles, I don’t think any other in Havering would have the same amount.

“The pyramid system in the league was a God-send, being able to go up. We would’ve remained down in the also-rans trying to get fixtures against established clubs which is hard when you beat them and they don’t want to play again!”

Mitchell recalled some fine former teammates from down the years, starting with Dave Lock – who joined from Abbs Cross at the same time.

“‘Locky’ was involved in the early days and quite ambitious. He was extremely successful at a higher level with Gidea Park, but came back to skipper Ardleigh Green,” he added.

“He was very knowledgeable and a good player who led us to a couple of titles.

“Our first overseas player, John Monk, was only 17 and had never been off the farm in Forbes, New South Wales, miles from anywhere, but scored 7,000 runs in three years with us. He stayed with my family and we’ve stayed in touch and remained friends. He came over at the end of last year before lockdown.

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“And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone bowl as fast and as accurate as John Coyne. He could put it on a sixpence and was someone I admired and tried to emulate. He became the first to 2,000 wickets with the club.

“We had an awesome battery of fast bowlers – Coyne, Jack Bennett, Peter Jillings. I was the variation, unrelenting accuracy, no loose balls. Bowling won games for us.”

Mitchell estimates his tally of wickets for Green to be ‘around 2,700’ and reveals that to be much higher than his run total.

“Inside every bowler is a batsman screaming to get out!” he added. “I scored a couple of 50s, but once you’re at the tail end of the innings! Unfortunately because of the successful introduction of league cricket, there were some seasons where I only batted once or twice. In fact, one year I didn’t bat at all.

“I took three times as many wickets as I scored runs!”

Mitchell has enjoyed ‘quite a few eight-wicket hauls and more sevens than I can remember’ and admitted to having a huge amount of respect for Australian Shane Warne, claiming he would have been a leg spinner if he could have his time again.

Finchley’s Mike Milton and Leigh’s Kenny Wallace were named as two of his toughest opponents – “two top players in club cricket” – and a trip to South Africa in 2010 allowed Mitchell to play at one of the most picturesque grounds of all.

“I had the fortunate experience of playing in an international Veterans Festival in Cape Town, at Newlands Nursery ground for Western Province against the backdrop of Table Mountain,” he said. “I would say this is certainly the most spcetacular ground I’ve played at.”

Naming a favourite match proves much harder, though, as Mitchell added: “So many years playing and so many games, my ability to recall is diminshing rapidly! I usually need the help of a few pints in the bar after a game and someone prompting me with a better memory.

“But one combines a favourite ground and memorable game, as well as being an example as to the ups and downs of cricket and why we love the game.

“In 2016, while representing Essex over-60s we played Yorkshire Ridings. They took us all the way to North Yorkshire to the market town of Masham – a lovely, typical rural town and the home of Theakston and Black Sheep Brewery (for real ale lovers).

“The ground was lovely and ticked all the boxes for a picture perfect scene, even with a church at the corner of the ground. However, at this lovely venue, I recorded my worst ever bowling figures for Essex Seniors (1-64 in seven overs). A miserable return, against a very decent team.

“Due to the peculiar fixture set-up, we played the return against them the following week at Loughton. And against the same team, same players, I recorded my best bowling figures for Essex Seniors (6-16 in nine overs, including a hat-trick), thereby demonstrating the lows and highs on offer in the game of cricket!”

Representative cricket has certainly provided great memories for Mitchell, including winning one National title in 2014 with the Essex over-60s – after losing the 2011 final – and another winner’s medal with the over-70s last year.

“All of them were against Cheshire and last year’s over-70s were a lot of the same team we beat as over-60s,” he said.

“It’s a tough competition to win. Over 30 counties compete and you have to play 12 or 13 games to reach the final. The over-70s went 13 games unbeaten to win and the final was on neutral ground, halfway between both, at Gloucester on an estate, which was very pleasant.”

And before signing off, Mitchell was keen to pay tribute to another great servant of local cricket, namely Roy Smith.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Roy, he’s a phenomenal player and his Ardleigh Green team did the Double,” he said.

“He’s very committed, expects everyone else to give 110 per cent and can’t understand why others don’t, and before he was 40 he had scored 100 hundreds for Ardleigh Green alone. I don’t think anyone else in the country has done that.

“Ardleigh Green has been very fortunate over the years with the number of players showing loyalty to the club, when you see those with over 1,000 wickets or 20,000 runs, it’s a long list who stayed loyal.”

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