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Hayley Jensen makes step up from utility allrounder to new-ball menace

Known for her change-ups with the old ball, she has shown a previously hidden facet of her skillset at the Commonwealth Games

S Sudarshanan
Hayley Jensen had never opened the bowling for New Zealand before the Commonwealth Games  •  Getty Images

Hayley Jensen had never opened the bowling for New Zealand before the Commonwealth Games  •  Getty Images

Hayley Jensen has played 42 T20Is. Only four members of New Zealand's squad at the Commonwealth Games have played more matches than her. But what exactly is her role in New Zealand's T20I set-up?
She's handy with the bat, but she's hardly the first name you'd think of when you think of New Zealand's best batters. She's a wily medium-pacer who often gets the better of batters on sluggish surfaces with her change-ups, but her name is probably not the first that pops into your head if you close your eyes and think of New Zealand's seamers.
Over the last couple of years, Jensen has been a plug-the-hole kind of player. Suzie Bates is unavailable, who do New Zealand open the batting with? Jensen. A couple of quick wickets have fallen; who could they possibly send in to lengthen their batting? Jensen, of course. Quick lower-order runs needed? Call Jensen, maybe?
During the Commonwealth Games, she's begun fulfilling another new role, of opening the bowling. Against South Africa, she was New Zealand's most economical bowler, her four overs costing just 22 runs and bringing the wicket of Anneke Bosch. In the 45-run win over Sri Lanka, Jensen did even better, returning figures of 3 for 5 - her best in T20Is.
If Sri Lanka were to make a match of their 148-run chase, Chamari Athapaththu had to be the protagonist. In her opening exchanges with Jensen, though, Athapaththu - to quote Jos Buttler - "came third in a two-horse race". It could have been curtains for her off the very first ball when she failed to pick an inswinger and was rapped on the pads. New Zealand didn't review the lbw call. After flicking the next inswinger to midwicket, she had a wild dash at a full and wide ball.
Off the fourth ball she faced, Athapaththu walked at Jensen, only for the inswinger to dip under her bat and clatter into leg stump. The stuff of dreams for a swing bowler. Hasini Perera was next in line to succumb to her inswing, failing to put bat to five of the first six balls she faced from Jensen, flicking and missing repeatedly.
Jensen had never opened the bowling for New Zealand before the Commonwealth Games, and head coach Ben Sawyer was behind the move to give her this opportunity.
"Ben's come in and just wanted me to swing the ball up top," Jensen said. "That's what I have tried to work on. Usually I probably bowl variations and things like that. He's just tried to keep it simple for me to swing the ball up top and then yorkers at the back end.
"I do it for Otago back in domestic [cricket]. I haven't done it for White Ferns as much but tried to get it back in my game. Ben's really helped me with that. He was the bowling coach of Australia and so he's really been helping me with my bowling."
Jensen returned for her second spell after the powerplay to end Perera's misery before having Anushka Sanjeewani playing on with a full one in the 15th over.
"We saw in the warmups that she was moving it a bit and, in training also, she's been really swinging the ball a lot here in English conditions, and you want to make the most of it," Sophie Devine, the New Zealand captain, said. "Today she was outstanding again. She's probably a bit underrated and I think the teams are certainly going to start watching what she can do with the ball."
In the Women's T20 World Cup in 2020, when New Zealand were dismissed for 91 by Bangladesh, Jensen led the way with the ball with 3 for 11 to eke out a 17-run win. A week before that, she had dragged Sri Lanka back after a strong start and helped keep them to a gettable total.
From being the saviour with the older ball to setting the tone with the new, swinging ball, Jensen has shown she can do it all. And now that she's gained success in this new, high-profile gig, her name might be the first one that comes to your mind if you were to close your eyes and think of a New Zealand player.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo