WHEN I’m asked who is the most complete home-grown batsman I have ever seen on the Isle of Wight, the answer is so simple — Keith Mitchell.

Anyone who scores 1,603 runs in an Island cricket season, at an average of 84.30, just has to be rather special.

He skippered Newport, our Island representative team and impressed Hampshire.

It’s taken me over 40 years to write his story.

Back in the late 70s, sadly, he declined my invitation for an interview.

I never gave up though.

When we met last week, he couldn’t even remember why he’d turned me down all those years ago.

I was just relieved he’d finally surrendered — and he never stopped talking for virtually two hours!

Isle of Wight County Press: The Barton Boys football team in Newport, which included in the front row, from left, singer Craig Douglas, Keith and local historian, Brian Greening. The Barton Boys football team in Newport, which included in the front row, from left, singer Craig Douglas, Keith and local historian, Brian Greening.

At Barton Boys, he was known more as a footballer than a cricketer.

They had a brilliant team and little did he know that in their forward line, alongside him, were a future pop star and a popular Island historian and author.

Namely, Terry Perkins, who became Craig Douglas, and Brian Greening.

Keith is still proud of the fact he was born in Cheltenham — hence his passion for horse racing.

He still remembers his first bet — it was a ‘thruppenny’ bit. He must have been in short trousers at the time!

In Island football he played in a very talented young East Cowes Vics team, alongside Terry Mooney, Trevor Kings, John Cotton and Ken Blenkinsop.

Isle of Wight County Press: Keith, right, receiving a special award for his 1,603 runs scored in a season.Keith, right, receiving a special award for his 1,603 runs scored in a season.

Also in that team was Jim Yeates.

He told me: “In my football career there were only two players I had a special telepathy with. We just seemed to know what we were each going to do.

“That was Jim and later, Parkhurst’s John Chessell.”

Knee injuries threatened his soccer career and Shanklin surgeon Henry Lee operated on both.

After the first one, he admitted to Keith he had been worried it was not going to work.

Rumours suggest on one painful occasion, before his surgery, the old Newport Football Club trainer, Stan Neil, laid Keith on the floor of the Robin Hood pub with a view to putting his dislocated cartilage back.

It didn’t work.

Isle of Wight County Press: Keith, left, with legendary ex-England wicketkeeper, turned artist, Jack Russell, pointing Keith out (in red shirt) in one of his paintings at a Sussex match.Keith, left, with legendary ex-England wicketkeeper, turned artist, Jack Russell, pointing Keith out (in red shirt) in one of his paintings at a Sussex match.

Keith, a lifelong Spurs fan, had a season at Barton Sports, when they won the Division One Cup, against all the odds, when they beat Brading 1-0.

He made the goal, but when the winning team photo was in the County Press, he wasn’t in it. It was taken three days later at an evening game when he was missing, playing cricket.

His pal, Mick Kirk, who took his place that night, loved telling him he couldn’t have played in the final, as he wasn’t in the photo.

After some very successful seasons with the all-conquering Parkhurst Old Boys, despite being in pain with his knees, he finally retired, after a season or two at Saro Sports, to concentrate on his cricket.

Isle of Wight County Press: Keith Mitchell is a Newport Cricket Club legend.Keith Mitchell is a Newport Cricket Club legend.

When Keith was 15, he was sat on the bank at the Victoria Recreation Ground, ready to watch the Newport Thursday team.

His schoolteacher, David Martin, rushed over to tell him they were one short.

He drove him home to get his kit — and he stayed with the club for the rest of his cricket career.

Keith had just two games for the second X1 and then went straight into the first team.

Newport became unbeatable and won the very first Whitbread Knock-Out Cup in 1966. They beat Ryde and he scored 107 not out.

Ryde were skittled out for 99.

When Keith was still a teenager, he played for the Island against the Hampshire Club and Ground, at Southampton, and faced the bowling of a young Bob Cottam and his own Newport team mate, Clive Smith, who was particularly hostile, as he’d been left out of the Island team.

Keith made 70 not out and impressed Hampshire officials — so much so, he was invited back to play for their Club and Ground team, which included Cottam and Alan Castell.

He batted well and kept wicket.

Keith said: “I never knew for many years Hampshire were keen for me to join them.

“David Martin kept this a secret for so long. I think it may have been because I was serving an apprenticeship at Saunders-Roe.

“I don’t think my dad would’ve let me go anyway.”

Instead, he plundered thousands of runs for Newport in a 40-year career, which saw him score centuries spanning five decades.

In one season, he won three new cricket bats, including the special Colin Cowdrey Award.

One of his greatest personal moments, when he was the Island captain, was tossing a coin with the opposing MCC skipper — his idol, Godfrey Evans.

He also appreciated the special note he had from the legendary Island skipper, Bill Jenkins, after he was surprisingly asked to take over from him as captain.

Keith hit a century in his first game in charge.

He still remembers his first game for the Island. It was against the Pakistan Eaglets, who included a very young Mushtaq Mohammad.

I was the scorer for the Pakistan team and they looked after me so well.

While we talked about Newport, Keith was keen to pay tribute to two of their hard working and popular players, who did so much to take the club forward.

All Island cricket lovers were saddened by the premature deaths of Martin Poynter and Andy Long.

Among Keith’s cricket heroes is the former Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper Jack Russell.

He met him a few times. Mitch, as he is known in Island cricket circles, was amazed to find both himself and his pal of many years, the late Chris Cheverton, were actually in one of Jack’s paintings.

They were in the crowd at a game in Sussex.

Keith still remembers the first time he ever encountered Chris. It was a soccer game between Parkhurst and Binstead.

Chivvy was playing for Binstead and he kicked Keith and claimed it was a fair challenge.

Little did they realise they would become such great mates.

When the brilliant young wicketkeeper, Alan Gurney, came along to Newport, Keith was more than happy to field at cover point and he became a south coast legend fielding there.

Keith, who also enjoyed golf at Osborne, has been such a credit to the Island’s cricket scene.

He coached young Newport players and, after retiring from the game, became a highly respected umpire.

Keith is always more comfortable talking about other people more than himself.

So many of his local friends and working colleagues have enriched and influenced him during his lifetime of sport and 43 years in the aircraft industry.

Keith is a great family man and has been happily married to Alison for nearly 50 years, with two sons, Ben and Sam, and three grandchildren, Molly, Jack and Brooklyn.

I’d always wanted to ask him if he’d made all of Brian Greening’s goals for Barton Boys, East Cowes Vics and Parkhurst?

I know they are best mates.

“I wouldn’t say that — but whenever I passed the ball to him, I never got it back,” he joked.