Frank Mitchell: Imperial Cricketer
Written by Anthony Bradbury
Frank Mitchell in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras was a shining sporting
star who dazzled all too briefly. Whilst showing great potential at cricket as a
mature undergraduate, he reached the ultimate position in rugby when still at
Cambridge in becoming captain of the England XV.
Cricket, though, was a more abiding interest. Mitchell achieved some
notoriety through his actions as captain of Cambridge in the Varsity match
of 1896, when he sought to avoid the Oxford XI having to follow-on by
instructing his bowler to bowl no balls and wides. His earlier attacking style
had already brought him, as a Yorkshireman, to the attention of Lord Hawke,
with much of his limited first-class cricket then being played for Yorkshire.
Hawke gave him a place on his tour to South Africa in 1898/99, which made
Mitchell, retrospectively, an English Test cricketer. He served with the army
during part of the Boer War and, after a wonderful season back with Yorkshire
in 1901, he emigrated to South Africa.
Working for Abe Bailey, the South African entrepreneur, led Mitchell to captain
the South African team to England in 1904 which, though playing no official
Tests, had a successful tour. Thereafter he worked as a stockbroker, but a
surprise recall as captain of the South African team for the Triangular Tour of
1912 caused more controversy.
Without much personal income, Mitchell struggled with the requirements
of amateurism, but he again joined the army in 1914, rising to the rank of
Lieutenant-Colonel. Later he made a living from the precarious tin industry
in Nigeria and from writing frequent columns for The Cricketer. Some of the
aspirations expressed in his articles would remain welcome today. Frank
Mitchell was a man of many parts, whose contributions to English and South
African sport made him for short periods a notable hero.