A Merry Christmas With Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell : Cricket’s Hardest Man

(A tribute to Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell, who died on Christmas Day in 1976.)

In the last edition of The Cricketer Ray Illingworth made some unsympathetic remarks about Graham Hick, suggesting the reason he was not a success in Test Cricket was

“A bit of a soft centre?  We dropped Hick after one game and he left the ground crying.  If anyone had done that in my time he’d have never been picked again.

But then Illingworth grew up in a hard school, too hard even for his tastes – the Yorkshire side of the early 1950s – as he described in his autobiography:

“Such was the hard, vicious school in which the young players of the fifties had to make their way … There was no mitigation, no excuse accepted, no allowances made.  You either swallowed the insults and gritted your teeth or you went to pieces … That [Fred Trueman’s ‘belief in his own invincibility‘] was what enabled him to hold his own amongst the ‘hard men’ in the side – Hutton, Appleyard, Wardle.  They got both barrels straight between the eyes in any dust-up with Fred and they were very hard men.”

But then, going back a little further, there was one man who even Hutton considered “A very hard man.  Too hard for me really” – Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell.

Mitchell (invariably described as a dour, austere, ultra-defensive batsman) played for Yorkshire between 1922 and 1946, forming an opening partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe after the retirement of Percy Holmes, at which point the iron seems to have seriously entered his soul.

Sutcliffe (who admired him) described Mitchell as “”As grim and steadfast as a piece of stone from the Baildon Moors that are so near his home.”

Baildon Stone

Baildon Stone

Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell

Another contemporary, Bill Bowes remembered him as “Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell who never gave a word of praise (and who once growled under his breath after Ellis Robinson had made a spectacular dive and caught the ball with his finger-tips, ‘Gerrup, th’art makin’ an exhibition o’ thiself.’)”

When Sutcliffe retired, he became a supportive senior partner to the young Hutton, as described by Wisden:

“Young Hutton was feeling in form, so after he had played himself in he decided to cut a rising ball outside the off-stump. He actually lay back and cut hard and swiftly, with cavalier flourish. He cut under the ball by an inch, and it sped bang into the wicket-keeper’s gloves. And Mitchell, from the other end of the pitch, looked hard at Hutton and said, “That’s no *******use!


“The young Len Hutton, early in his career found himself sent to field beside Mitchell in the slips. Normally the slips were reserved for elder statesmen, while the young did the running about. Mitchell eyed the future knight and master batsman critically. “What the **** are you doing here?” he asked.”

Mitchell played six Test Matches in all, though rather reluctantly …

“When Maurice Leyland withdrew through illness [lumbago] on the morning of the match, Brian Sellers drove the ten miles from Leeds to Baildon to fetch Mitchell, who was busy in his rose garden.  Mitchell relented only after much protest. ‘Oh all right then.  Just let me tidy mesen up a bit.'”

Nor was he any easier to please as a literary critic, as R.C. Robertson-Glasgow relates:

“In a north country tavern a few years ago Maurice Leyland was discussing cricket and cricket reporting with an eminent writer, famous for style and fancy, [Cardus] when Mitchell (A.) joined himself to the party and, after listening gravely for a few minutes, abruptly remarked: ‘Mr. ——, I don’t like tha writing; it’s too flowery.’  Whereat Leyland, displeased with this captious and personal turn in the conversation, retorted: ‘And that’s more than anyone would say of tha batting, Arthur.”

But it was as a coach that Mitchell left his lasting legacy, forming, on retirement,  good cop/bad cop partnerships with the genial Maurice Leyland and the avuncular Bill Bowes.  As Geoffrey Boycott describes it:

“Literally hundreds of Yorkshire boys feared Arthur Mitchell.  Many a lad went home on a dark winter’s night with tears in his eyes after a roasting. I can never remember Mitchell uttering one word of praise . . .You were really lucky if he restricted himself to: ‘Not too bad, but keep that left elbow up’.  Brian Close was so annoyed by his sharp-tongued criticism that he used to drive the ball as hard as he could straight back down the wicket in the hope, I am sure, of hitting Mitchell or at least making him jump out of the way. Mitchell never budged and never softened. Not even the best really satisfied him.

Another of his pupils, Fred Trueman, remembered him fondly as

“A man of dark intensity who seemed to growl rather than speak.  If the occasion arose when praise was called for, the words had to be forced from a sparse vocabulary.  The type of man who, if he went riding with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, would not noticeably enliven the party.”

Some hopefuls got even shorter shrift, such as spinner Don Wilson at his first net at Headingley:

“His first session with the bat, facing the full pace of Fred Trueman, did not impress the coach Arthur Mitchell: “What do you do for a living, lad? [He was a joiner] Well, forget the cricket. Fetch some bloody timber and board that end up.

and journalist Michael Parkinson, as a youth, received the same treatment

“‘Ticker’ Mitchell, the coach, watched me for five minutes and then said to Dickie Bird:  “Does this man have a job?” Dickie said: “Aye he’s a journalist.” To which Mitchell replied: “Tell him not to give it up.”

But surely ‘Ticker’ must have had a softer side, revealed, perhaps, when in the bosom of his family?  Not according to his son Alf, when asked what his father would have made of modern players kissing and hugging each other at the fall of a wicket:

“”Put it this way, I can’t even remember him kissing and hugging my mother.

The best I can do is that he was not entirely impervious to physical discomfort (J.M. Kilburn remembers him taking to the field at Fenners in April with his pyjamas on under two pairs of flannels) and this rather endearing description of him in an unaccustomed role from R.C. Robertson-Glasgow:

“I have seen him bowl a few overs very steadily, like a dutiful horse.  He is fond of imparting to common truths the air of mystery and novelty, and he once said to me: ‘To write on cricket tha wants to watch it..’ A curious reflection.”

Crusoe does, too, mention that

“In 1928 he topped the 1,000 and began further to assert himself by wearing his cap at an angle which could not have been wholly approved of by Wilfred Rhodes.”

But that’s about it.

But, in a way, I think Mitchell has had the last – well not laugh exactly – I don’t think he would have wanted that – but perhaps been vindicated.  After all, it was on his retirement as coach in 1970 that Yorkshire cricket started to go seriously down the drain, and I think if you listen to TMS for any length of time you can still hear a distinctive voice being channeled from beyond the grave …

“What kind of shot was that?  … I’m sorry, I’m just being honest …  That were roobish … My Granny could have played that wi’ a stick of rhoobarb …”

[Apart from the writers I have mentioned, some quotations taken from Chris Waters’s authorised biography of Fred Trueman, which I’d recommend to you if you’ve been given a Book Token for Christmas – Aurum Books, £8.99]

7 thoughts on “A Merry Christmas With Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell : Cricket’s Hardest Man

  1. Pingback: Posts to toast « Declaration Game

  2. Fred just referred to Ticker on Tweet and I read this article – can only be described as a proper bloke and a real character.

  3. He was that. One anecdote I didn’t know when I wrote this is about how he got his name (most sources say it was because of his habit of talking to himself when he was batting). But according to J.M. Kilburn

    “In the 1920s a succession of Yorkshire professionals visited India on coaching engagements and they brought back Hindustani phrases and appellations to their Yorkshire dressing room. ‘I got Ticka,’ Mitchell explains, ‘and it stuck.’

    So, also an early fan of Indian cuisine (perhaps).

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