Who Invented the Dilshan Scoop?

“If the cricketers of A.D. 2000 have any time to read of their forerunners, it is not likely that T.B. Mitchell, the little Derbyshire leg-break bowler, will long detain their interest or much excite their wonder.”  – R.C. Robertson-Glasgow in Cricket Prints.

Back, for a moment, to our Wantaway (or possibly Not-really-wantaway) Starlet, James Taylor.

This is Paul Jones, writing in Monday’s Leicester Mercury about the T20 game against Derbyshire –

“A stroke of pure genius sealed Leicestershire Foxes’ third consecutive away win … by the end of the 19th over, the points were as good as in the bag as Taylor showed why is such an incredible talent … he took Leicestershire to within two runs of victory with a shot which was as outrageous as it was brilliant.

The England Lions man struck a sweet, straight six over his own head as he incredibly scooped the ball beyond wicket-keeper Luke Sutton and into the sightscreen.  It was breathtaking”. 

The invention of this shot – the so-called Dilshan Scoop – is usually credited to the Sri Lankan Dilshan.  But I have uncovered evidence that a prototype was being trialled as early as the 1930s by the Derbyshire leg-spinner Tommy Mitchell.

This is from a letter to the Times by one F.B. Singleton, dated 20 August 1975.  The main point of his letter was to complain about the size of Tony Greig’s batting gloves, but he goes on to say –

Even in the late thirties many a No. 10 or No. 11 showed as little concern for his shins as for his knuckles and sported only one pad.  I never saw Tom Mitchell, the old England bowler, quite totally equipped.  Old hands at Chesterfield and Buxton used to say that his single pad, which he buckled up so imperfectly that it inevitably fell off during his brief outing to the wicket, was the result of a detested compromise with the Derbyshire committee and that his real preference was for bicycle clips.

My own impression was that any sort of attachment to his legs got in the way of his very effective scoop, the high point of his reputation as a batsman.  It was a deceptively simple shot played from an almost kneeling position.  In essence the blade of the bat was placed horizontal on the pitch and lifted briskly as the ball came into line with it: rather as one tosses a pancake.  The object of course was to propel the ball sufficiently far in the direction of the sky as to allow Mitchell and his partner  … to cross at least three times before its collection on the downward flight by the nearest of the 11 men keenly following its progress.”

Now, admittedly, the shot required further development – so that it resulted in runs being scored, for instance (Mitchell’s career average was 7.97 ) – but I’d say the elements were there.

Originally a miner from Bolsover, Mitchell defied convention by bowling leg-spin rather than fast.  According to Cricinfo, he was “discovered by the then Derbyshire captain and coal owner, Guy Jackson, when he took, during the General Strike of 1926, a bridge-building county team to play the local colliery”.

He played a supporting role  in the Bodyline series, replacing an injured Voce in the fourth Test and dismissing Woodfull twice.  His Test career came to an end when he failed to take wickets on a “leatherjacket-infested” wicket at Lord’s in 1935, and is said to have informed his captain Bob Wyatt that he “couldn’t captain a team of bloody lead soldiers”.

His last first-class match was against Leicestershire on 30th August 1939.  He refused to play again after the war, so was denied the benefit he had been due in 1940.  He went back down the pit, and took engagements in the Leagues, including one at Blackpool, where, I suppose, he could have patronised his old pal Larwood’s sweet shop.

He died in 1996, having just outlived Wyatt and taken his title of the oldest living England cricketer, a fact which, apparently, gave him some satisfaction.

Robertson-Glasgow again –

“Mostly he argues with intangible enemies, with leg-breaks that have spun too much, catches that have defied instructions, puffs of wind that have interfered with his own private theories of ballistics.  There is something of Donald Duck about him.  No cricketer so conveys to the spectators the perplexities and frustrations of man at the mercy of malignant fate.  He has much in common with that golfer who missed short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in the adjoining meadow. He is the comedian of tragedy.” 

Tommy Mitchell