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Feature

Top-order batter to 'something special' fast bowler - the Kyle Jamieson story

Jamieson "a much better bowler" than Richard Hadlee was at the same age, says mentor Dayle Hadlee

Deivarayan Muthu
01-Jun-2021
Thirty-six wickets in six Test matches at an average of 13.27. Kyle Jamieson was, arguably, the story of New Zealand's last home season, taking wickets for fun, which culminated in a bumper IPL contract worth INR 15 crore (USD 2 million approx.).
Fun fact: Jamieson was primarily a top-order batter through high school at Auckland Grammar, where Lockie Ferguson and Jimmy Neesham were his seniors. Until early 2013, he batted in the top three, someone who could roll his arm over too. But in the lead-up to the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, Dayle Hadlee, the former New Zealand bowling coach - and Richard's elder brother - was so impressed with his towering frame (6'8'') that he transformed him into a genuine fast bowler.
"It was a long time ago. I think it would've been at the New Zealand Under-19 national tournament where I think I saw Kyle first," Dayle recounts, speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "It was prior to him being selected to go to the World Cup in 2014. I saw him playing there and I was impressed with him, especially the height side of things.
"I didn't focus too much on his batting. When I watch a game of cricket, I mainly focus on bowlers. He had quite a nice action, but there wasn't a lot of energy in it. For an imposing physical bowler, I felt like he wasn't getting enough from what he did at that time. We had a chat and eventually he was selected in the New Zealand Under-19 team to go to the World Cup and I was there with him at that tour. That's when I really got excited about what his possibilities were."
In the Under-19 World Cup in the UAE, in his first major tournament as a bowler, Jamieson came away with seven wickets in four matches at an average of 23.85 and economy rate of 4.51. Those numbers aren't quite flash and while Dayle remembers Jamieson often bowling too full in that tournament, he points out that Jamieson didn't get carried away by his height.
Jamieson understood fairly early in his bowling career that his natural length would be a heavy length for most batters, another thing that impressed Dayle. After that Under-19 World Cup, Jamieson won his first contract with Canterbury; Dayle was the bowling coach there at the time. Dayle approached Gary Stead, who was the head coach of Canterbury then, and said, "This boy has something really special, but he's just not harnessing it yet."
Dayle took Jamieson under his wing and often spent time with him at the nets before he would join the rest of the bowling group at training. Dayle had noted that Jamieson's run-up wasn't stable and his action wasn't strong enough. So, the pair focused on a number of tweaks to bring the best out of Jamieson.
"He had a nice action but there wasn't much energy or strength in it," Dayle says. "When he ran into bowl, I told him 'you run as though you are treading treacle'. In other words, running in a gumboot and everything was so slow and ponderous. So, that was one of our first discussions and then when I got a chance to look at his technique in a lot more detail using cameras and those things, I noticed that in his running technique, the last few strides were getting out of alignment. His left foot was going to the right and so he was getting out of balance.
"I also noticed that his front arm was going up and back, which means if it goes back it has to stop and if it stops, it has to start again. We spent one winter trying to get more energy into his front-foot landing. We did a drill going up and down the gym, slapping the front foot. In the end, he got a stress fracture and I remember saying to Kyle, 'I'm really sorry Kyle, I might have contributed to that'. But, he didn't think so, he was very kind and let me off the hook."
Jamieson also began working on his inswinger and the back-of-the-hand slower ball to add to his stock outswinger and standard offcutter. He often delighted in trying to outwit Dayle during the seam-release drills by mixing up his deliveries.
However, as Jamieson climbed through the ranks and entered the New Zealand winter camps and trained along with the big boys, he initially doubted if he belonged to that level. Dayle, though, had no such doubts and believed that Jamieson was even better than Richard Hadlee was at a similar age.
"I think everybody wonders where they are in relation to everybody else," Dayle says. "He was no different and we tried to encourage him really. I meant it genuinely when I told him that he was a much better bowler than Richard was at the same age. Richard had major technical issues [in his early days] and was inconsistent. Kyle was much more consistent and had the extra bounce that Richard didn't have. Richard had to bowl shorter to get that bounce. I patted Kyle on the back and said he was doing extremely well for his age and said it was onwards and upwards for him."
Last home summer, Jamieson showed everyone that he indeed belonged to the top level, helping New Zealand to No. 1 on the ICC Test rankings for the first time in their history. His ability to bounce out batters, like Neil Wagner often does, gives the attack another dimension, but like Trent Boult and Tim Southee, he can also pitch the ball up and set up batters in swinging conditions. Case in point: Mohammad Rizwan's dismissal at Hagley Oval. Having spotted Rizwan attempting hard-handed jabs that occasionally forced his bat to travel too far in front of his body, Jamieson disguised his inswinger as a ball potentially up there for the drive, only once it pitched it turned into something entirely different, barging through the Pakistan batter's defences.
"It's not often that you have two bowlers in Trent Boult and Tim Southee in the top ten in the same time in the same era," Dayle says. "We've had some great bowlers over the past, but a lot of them have been surrounded by not-so-quite-good bowlers. Now, we've got two world-class bowlers and Neil Wagner has done remarkably well, but he does things absolutely differently. He can swing the ball, but when the ball is old and the pitch is flat, his modus operandi is to bowl short and bounce the batsman. Kyle being exposed to both those techniques will do him good because you just can't pitch the ball up on a flat track. There will be times when he has to impose himself physically and do a bit of chin music around the batsmen."
Jamieson is now preparing to play his first overseas Test, at Lord's, a venue where his mentor Dayle had made his Test debut back in 1969. In the possible absence of Boult, Jamieson could potentially take the new ball along with Southee, although Matt Henry is in the new-ball mix as well.
"Every time I see Lord's, it brings back memories," Dayle says. "I'll be delighted to sit and watch Kyle walking out on that ground because it's the home of cricket and it has its own aura. You walk on to the field, you actually feel it. It's about settling down and trying to cope with it - just another 22 yards or 20 metres and bring your focus in narrowly rather than getting overawed by the occasion."
As for Jamieson, he says, "It was a pretty cool experience to just soak in everything - the ground and the history that comes with it. Walking through the Long Room and going across to the nets and just standing out in the middle. Getting used to the slope and all that sort of stuff - so it was a pretty cool day to be part of. Just soak it all in - kind of be present in this moment and just enjoy it."
These are still early days for Jamieson, but for the batter-turned-bowler, his first international tour, with the World Test Championship up for grabs, could potentially be a career-defining one.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo