Interviews

Kyle Jamieson is always looking for the perfect ball, the perfect plan

After a tepid home summer, the New Zealand seamer is focusing on growing his game further. He talks about being the fourth prong of a highly skilled attack

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
2 hrs ago
Kyle Jamieson bowls to Marco Jansen, New Zealand vs South Africa, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 2nd day, February 26, 2022

Kyle Jamieson: "As a tall guy your natural length's probably more back of a length, but you're constantly trying to find that balance between getting it up and still being heavy"  •  Sanka Vidanagama  /  AFP/Getty Images

Kyle Jamieson is a man of impressive numbers. His 6ft 8in frame, for a start, puts him among the tallest sportsmen who aren't involved in the NBA. Then there is his Test bowling record. Since making his debut just over two years ago, Jamieson has taken 66 wickets at 18.72 in 14 Tests, striking once every 43.5 balls. Few among those who have taken a minimum of 50 wickets have combined such a low average with such a lethal strike rate in Test cricket since Sydney Barnes more than 100 years ago.
You might also throw in the Rs 15 crore - that is 150,000,000 rupees, just over US$2 million - paid by Royal Challengers Bangalore to acquire Jamieson's services in the 2021 IPL auction. Although nine wickets and an economy of 9.60 for that price tag were eye-catching for the wrong reasons. For now, the IPL remains unfinished business.
None of these markers mean too much to Jamieson. "No, I'm not really a stats guy," he says, long limbs squeezed into one of the white plastic seats in front of the pavilion in Hove. The ICC's No. 5-ranked bowler, and self-described "fourth prong" of New Zealand's Test attack, is staring out into the gloom that has descended on Sussex's tight little ground, rain drumming intermittently on the roof, as he considers a series of questions about just how good he is, and just how good he could be.
"For me, that stuff sort of just happens, it comes and goes, and it'll go up and go down over the course of my career," he says. "If I'm trying to get better and learn and grow, those things are going to take care of themselves. I think sometimes that [your average] does measure where you are at but sometimes it doesn't necessarily reflect that. You can be getting better and grow as a person, as a player, but it's not necessarily reflected in the numbers."
It's easy to see why people get excited by Jamieson, numbers aside. Despite being more of a batter while growing up, he has taken giant strides - quite literally - since he moved his focus to bowling in his late teens. Able to deliver the ball from a height of 2.3m, and to generate the sort of awkward bounce that makes playing forward an act of folly, Jamieson can also swing it both ways from a fuller length than most, all while generating speeds up to 140kph/87mph. Such a formidable array of attributes has seen him described as pretty much the perfect fast bowler.
He chuckles wryly at that. While his height is simply a blessing of the genes - "I can certainly thank my parents for that" - there has been plenty of hard work put in since Dayle Hadlee, older brother of Richard, spotted Jamieson's potential as a bowler ahead of the 2014 Under-19 World Cup.
"I'm just trying to grow my game and I don't think there's any sort of perfect fast bowler," Jamieson says. "There's a lot of different guys that have done it a lot of different ways and been very successful for a long period of time. I'm just trying to grab little bits from those guys and add to my game, where it's applicable, and try and get to my definition of perfect."
What would that definition be? "There's a few little things that I'll probably keep to myself," he says with a smile. "But yeah, I have a pretty clear vision in my head around the cricketer I want to be. I'm just trying to chase that as much as I can. That's what I'll hang my hat on in the time to come."
Being a force across all three formats is one of the challenges that motivates him, as well as improving his returns with the bat. Jamieson has five first-class fifties, with a highest score of 67 - although some England fans might remember him flaying a 110-ball hundred against them during a tour game in 2017-18. That hints at a Ben Stokes-like ability to change games with either bat or ball, and Jamieson agrees that "genuine allrounder" is the label he aspires to.
"I'm still a long way off the batter I want to be," he says. "I'd love to be contributing more runs. I think I'm still relatively fresh in that area. How do I balance that, how do I improve? And my white-ball stuff as well - that's probably the thing that numbers don't necessarily always show. I know that I'm so young in my career, there's still a long way to get to where I want to go. It's just about trying to put in those yards around the specifics I want to improve on.
"I'm a long way off that finished product but certainly that genuine allrounder is what I'm trying to strive for, and understanding that there's a lot of time to come before I reach that point. But it certainly motivates me to keep going."

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After his barnstorming start to Test cricket, in particular, the last couple of months have given Jamieson a little time to "reassess where things are at, look at some of the lessons I've had and then plan ahead where I take my game".
Having been released by RCB less than a year after that life-changing payday, he decided against entering the 2022 IPL mega auction, prioritising instead a period at home in Auckland with his family that also allowed him to work on the fundamentals of his cricket. Time spent by the beach, playing golf, and satisfying a love of Italian food helped recharge the batteries after two years as an international cricketer that overlapped almost completely with the era of biosecure bubbles and travel restrictions brought about by Covid-19.
Both Jamieson and New Zealand experienced a dip in form during the southern summer just past. The reigning World Test champions could only manage two 1-1 series draws, against Bangladesh and South Africa; Jamieson's 14 wickets, meanwhile, came at a more modest 28.71. New Zealand currently sit sixth on the table for the 2021-23 WTC cycle. If they are to qualify again for the final, and have a chance to defend their title, they need to do well in the upcoming three-Test series against an England side languishing down at the bottom.
For Jamieson, this is all part of the journey. Few would have tipped New Zealand to lift the inaugural WTC trophy when the concept was undergoing its tortuous genesis in the mid-2010s. And while Jamieson's name has been mentioned in the same breath as some of New Zealand's greats during his rapid ascent, he remains rapt just to be involved alongside Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner as arguably the best Test fast-bowling attack going.
"Hundred per cent" he says, when asked if he still sees himself as the junior member of the attack. "Those guys have played, I don't know how many Tests, but all of them have played over 50 Tests, two of them have taken over 300 Test wickets, and Waggy's [Neil Wagner's] not far behind. So I'm certainly the fourth prong of that attack.
"Just love being a part of the group. I count myself so fortunate to come in at that time, [with] those guys at the peak of their powers and just to learn off them. Certainly a lot of the success I've had has been down to those guys."
Nevertheless, that success includes memorable dismissals of some of the best batters in Test cricket. Jamieson's first two wickets, in Wellington in February 2020, were Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli; he has since removed Pujara three more times and Kohli twice, including a peach of an lbw at a crucial juncture in the WTC final in Southampton last June. That came as part of a five-wicket haul, which also included Rohit Sharma caught in the cordon.
At Lord's, a couple of weeks beforehand, he dealt with both the slope and Joe Root, England's captain, done by perfect length off the very first ball of day. At Hagley Oval in 2021, Fawad Alam was practically guillotined by a vicious bouncer, while a personal favourite is the laser-like inswinger that sliced through Mohammad Rizwan (three dismissals in two Tests) as part of an 11-wicket haul in the same game.
But rather than bask in such personal triumphs, Jamieson prefers to focus on what might be New Zealand's special sauce: their togetherness as a group.
"I think, for me, the moments tend to be more around the team stuff. I remember sitting in the change room after my first Test and just soaking up that win. Sitting in the change room after the [WTC] final and seeing a lot of the guys that have been part of the New Zealand set-up for such a long period of time and been through an immense amount of stuff to get to that position, just to see the pure joy on their faces was something I hold pretty dear. Not so much the moments when you get wickets and stuff, but it's the team stuff I'll cherish for as long as I live."
Predictably, Jamieson also plays down his ability to target the opposition's best: "I think most people could look at a team sheet and know there's a few key wickets, but it doesn't necessarily mean the other ones aren't key either."
But again it is the numbers that do the talking for him. While his ratio of top-order wickets - 48 of his 66 Test dismissals have been batters in the top seven - is not remarkable, the cost of those wickets is. An average of 21.13 puts him behind only Axar Patel (13.5) and Ollie Robinson (20.7), for bowlers who have taken 30-plus top-seven wickets since his debut. Restrict the sample to batters in the top five, and Jamieson is well out in front with 35 at 19.70.
"You're always trying to make an impact, regardless of who the batter is at the other end," he says. "As a bowler your job is to take wickets and try to take them early in the game as much as you can, which tends to be the top-order guys. Some days it'll fall to me, some days it'll fall to Timmy and Trent and Wags. But it's how do we as a collective take 20 wickets?"

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Never mind a lab-built fast-bowling monster, Jamieson might well be something far scarier: a quick who is always thinking about his game. Although still fairly new to international cricket, at 27, he has been grafting away for several years to bring all those aforementioned attributes together in one package.
Despite the obvious attractions of attempting to constantly bomb batters from the crease, Jamieson's methods are more varied. "The short ball's part of the plan," he says, "as is moving the ball different directions and different angles of attack on the crease." He describes finding the outside edge for a catch in the cordon as his most satisfying form of dismissal, and has long focused on overcoming the tall bowler's natural aversion to pitching it up.
"I think that's something right from when I started to switch more to bowling around U-19. It was always: how do you bowl fuller but still be heavy? That's something I'm always trying to try to work on, [to] not bowl that floaty full ball. As a tall guy your natural length's probably more back of a length, but you're constantly trying to find that balance between getting it up and still being heavy.
"You're always trying to just drill that stuff. You come to training, you're trying to find what that length is, trying to be heavy; you're asking the batter for feedback around that length - what does it feel like? Hopefully you can be in that right area for longer periods and create some pressure."
As with Jamieson's pivotal dismissal of Kohli on the third morning of the WTC final, this is a finely calibrated approach. Having realised that collectively they had bowled too short on the second day (the first having been lost to rain), it was New Zealand's "fourth prong" who set about rectifying the situation. Six deliveries were all Jamieson required to triangulate a way through Kohli's defences.
It is this never-ending battle of wits that keeps Jamieson ticking.
"You're always thinking. That's the process between when you bowl the ball and walking back, reflecting on what happened there. How do I feel getting to the crease, what was the outcome of that ball? Constantly doing the cycle of trying to find the right area and work towards a plan. There's always natural variation: sometimes the ball's a little bit further than what you want, a little bit shorter that what you want, but it ends up working out for you. That's just the process of any bowler or any bowling unit. It's constantly reflecting and trying to find that perfect ball or that perfect plan to swing the game in your favour."
However you define perfection, that seems a pretty good place to start.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick