It hasn’t been easy over the last few weeks to see one of your good mates go through what Mitch has been going through. The sad thing is, Mitch isn’t on his own. The reality is though, what he is going and gone through has been put out there for the rest of the world to see, normally it’s hidden away for no one to see.
I first met Mitch when we played in the under 19’s championships. We were both so young but he was already very intimidating as he rocked up, ponytail, earing, and some hardcore t-shirt on. We had all heard so much about him already. He was this tear away left-arm quick who hasn’t really played much cricket but Dennis Lillee said he was going to be the next big thing in Australian cricket. Can you imagine what that would feel like, at the age of 16 to be told you are going to be the next big thing in Australian cricket when you yourself are only just growing up!! It must have been incredibly tough for him as he was already such a shy kid.
Mitch was selected for the Australian U/19’s tour of England without even playing a game for QLD. He was selected off the back of raw talent and speed. None of us really knew what to expect. I was fortunate to make that side as a spinning all-rounder batting at 8. Our side was captained by Michael Klinger and Michael Clarke was vice-captain. Would you believe that Adam Voges played on that side as a left-arm wrist-spinner who could bat as well… Our side was coached by Rod Marsh and Richard Done and they both adored Mitch. To be fair, we all did. He was so incredibly talented and we all knew that he was one day just going to take the world by storm. My most pivotal memory of Mitch on that tour was in our final test match against England, Mitch was called in to play. We were well on top in the match and only needed to win to draw the series. Mitch bowled the most incredible spell I reckon I have ever seen at that age. I think from memory he took about 4-5 in the space of 6 overs. He was hitting guys in the throat, the head, bowling them, and was just downright scary. This at the age of 17. His bowling helped us win the match and wrap it up very very quickly. I remember talking to Rod Marsh at the end of play and he said, he had never seen such raw pace from a young kid at his age, none of us had.
I was lucky enough to captain Mitch in the next couple of years of our U/19’s and there are some really vivid memories about him. Well, two spells actually. One was in a group game against NSW and we were playing in WA and Mitch bowled this spell to Ed Cowan (who batted amazingly) and myself and Harts (Chris Hartley) were back on the 30m circle. The ball was actually hitting his gloves and still going up. Was the fastest thing I have ever seen. The second spell was in a semi-final against NSW. We had traditionally been outplayed by NSW over the years so this was a big game for us. Although Mitch didn’t bowl as fast or as terrorizing as that first game, he single-handedly won us the game by removing the top order in quick succession. He was simply incredible. I will never forget those moments playing that age group with him, he was a rockstar.
A lot of people wouldn’t know but when Mitch got stress fractures and had to rebuild his action, he had to start again. What a lot of people wouldn’t understand is that Mitch didn’t have the years of cricket under his belt that we did. He was raw, from Townsville and just wanted to bowl fast and hit people. So back at Norths, he remodelled his action, became a better batter, worked with Morto and his plumbing business and began to rebuild his life. That he did, fast forward to the end of his career and he is known alongside all-rounders like Kallis and even someone like Garfield Sobers. But his bowling alone is what he is synonymous for. Left-arm quick who destroyed opposing teams when he got it right. He didn’t just take 2 or 3 wickets, he would take 5,6,7 and literally destroy the backbone of the team.
I had the privilege to play for Australia alongside him and he was exactly the same as when we were kids. Still scary and still trying to beat me up every chance he could. Being the spinner and the weak link in the bowling unit I was easy prey! haha. I have too many memories to count playing alongside Mitch for Australia. Some good, some bad but those bad ones I do my best these days to erase from the memory bank. When Ryan Harris made his test debut in NZ, it was him, me and Mitch who would go out for dinner or recovery, come back to the room and play ice hockey on the PlayStation. Sounds so small and trivial but having those small moments where you are scared to win because if you do, Mitch will beat you up or Ryano will break a remote is something I will never forget. I even remember how nervous we would all get when trying to take a penalty against each other. The friendships forged playing will always be there!
So for this Mitch, I am sorry mate. I am sorry you have gone through what you have gone through. I am sorry you were at a stage of your life and I was not here for you.I want you to know that you are never alone and this journey about finding our next identity after sport is challenging. I know you have the strength to find your next chapter and if you ever need help, you know where I am mate! I am incredibly proud of what you achieved for Australia. I am incredibly proud of what you did on SAS because I don’t reckon I could have done what you did. Everybody who has watched you play knows how good you were and are and we are all so lucky to have seen you in action. As Tony Wilson (TBONE) said, “You are one of the toughest dudes I know”! Love ya mate. Looking forward to catching up soon!!