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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Primal power of Kyle Jamieson is one of Test cricket’s great wonders | England v New Zealand 2022

It was around a quarter to five, with Joe Root and Ben Stokes settling in and nerves just beginning to jangle, that Nasser Hussain on Sky Sports urged New Zealand to bring Kyle Jamieson back into the attack. Alas, on this occasion his timing was slightly unfortunate. For as the camera homed in on Jamieson at long-leg, the giant fast bowler was just in the process of stifling a large yawn.

You couldn’t blame him, really. For one thing, he had already put in quite the shift earlier in the afternoon: eight back-breaking overs that had ripped out England’s top order and left them close to a chaotic defeat. For another, Test cricket when played at its normal pace must feel terribly languid and laborious to Jamieson, a man who in his short international career has become accustomed to things unfolding in a tremendous hurry.

Let’s start with the average, both the most and least interesting thing about him. Given a minimum of 50 wickets, Jamieson currently has the lowest Test average of any male cricketer born since the end of the 19th century. It was 18.72 at the start of this match and has since dipped lower still. Statistically speaking, Jamieson is 13% better than Malcolm Marshall, 29% better than Shane Warne, 32% better than Jimmy Anderson. A numerical quirk that will even out in time? Or greatness in the making?

There was some talk at the start of this series that after a mixed home summer against Bangladesh and South Africa, Jamieson had somehow been “worked out”: that after an incendiary first year in Test cricket, an inevitable regression to the mean was in progress.

But the metaphor never quite seemed to fit, because there is no real mystery or secret to what Jamieson does. He runs in over 18 menacing steps, leaps into a powerful delivery stride and hurls the ball down from a height of about 2.3 metres with extreme accuracy, healthy pace and the ability to move the ball both ways. Great: you’ve worked Kyle Jamieson out. Anyway, best of luck playing him.

England’s Ben Stokes walks off the pitch after he is dismissal by New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson is congratulated by his team-mates after taking Ben Stokes’ wicket on the third day of the first Test.
New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson is congratulated by his team-mates after taking Ben Stokes’ wicket on the third day of the first Test. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

The other thing that everyone talks about is Jamieson’s height. He stands 6ft 8in tall, New Zealand’s tallest cricketer, an asset that works on a practical and psychological level. The extra height gives him extra bounce off the pitch, more margin for error with his length, the best chance of extracting life from the surface. Batters are wary of driving him and so even when the ball is there to be driven they often fail to get fully forward, bringing the edge into play.

But there is a primal and mythical power to Jamieson too, the long shadow and the broad gait and the flaxen mop, the way he seems to tower over you even when he is standing 40 yards away at the end of his run-up. Jamieson looks like a man who has just fought off an entire Spartan phalanx with his bare hands. Like a man who has just retrieved a magical hammer from the bottom of the ocean. He suffered from anger issues when he was younger – he is 27 now – and you still occasionally glimpse it in that smouldering glare, the follow-through that is just a few steps longer than it needs to be.

There is not a batter on earth who relishes facing him. Particularly not Virat Kohli, who has frequently looked utterly bereft against Jamieson and was dismissed by him in both innings of last year’s World Test Championship final.

And yet – obviously – there is more to Jamieson than pure physicality. Take his opening spell on Saturday, which featured three wickets captured via three forms of deception. Alex Lees was bowled shouldering arms to a vicious in-ducker. It looked like a magic ball and it was. But just as crucial was the setup: three shorter straighter deliveries that convinced Lees that he could leave on length.

Next Zak Crawley was flummoxed by the wider angle on the crease, stabbing the ball to gully. Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal was perhaps the most comprehensive of all: four wide ones outside off stump, then the inswinger that jerked down the slope and bowled him off the inside edge. Then, with the shadows lengthening and Stokes threatening to cut loose, Jamieson got him with a searing bouncer that homed in on Stokes’s throat and brushed the glove.

England’s Jonny Bairstow is bowled by Kyle Jamieson.
England’s Jonny Bairstow is bowled by Kyle Jamieson. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

The adjustments are subtle, minuscule, microscopic: a little tilt of the seam, an extra few inches of length. But amplified by his pace and bounce, the effect can be devastating: the hallmark of a bowler who for all his heart and height is also devilishly clever.

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Maybe this is why Jamieson has thus far struggled to replicate his Test success in the Twenty20 game, where bowlers need six different deliveries for every ball, where batters do not wait to be set up.

And doubtless in time that average will begin to tick up a few notches, once he has toiled on the featherbeds of south Asia, once he has been to Australia and South Africa. For now, though, Test cricket and New Zealand are fortunate to have him at his best. And as England edge towards their target, it is Jamieson who stands in their way: the titan guarding the gates of victory.

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