Big read: Inside Black Caps sensation's rapid rise

Publish Date
Sunday, 24 January 2021, 11:58AM
Photosport

Photosport

By: Liam Napier

Kyle Jamieson's height was not always the blessing it evolved to be. In his mid-teens, before his now imposing frame filled out to extract steep, envious bounce, the New Zealand cricket breakout talent vividly recalls being openly mocked for standing out from the crowd.

During those delicate adolescent years, while flirting with rugby league and basketball, Jamieson's gangly limbs were a sensitive subject.

As everyone's growth around him tapered off, Jamieson's kept going through to 2.03 metres.

Towering above the pack would eventually become a treasured weapon but, at that point, Jamieson discovered kids can be cruel.

"I remember walking through the Manukau Westfield and people would stare and go 'look at that guy, he's so tall'," Jamieson tells the Herald. "I remember just wanting to hide and get out of there. I used to dread going to the mall.

"When I was going through that growing stage I was definitely self-conscious of standing out.

"It's a weird feeling for any kid to be different and have people stare at you and call you out for something that you don't have a lot of control over. There was not a lot on me other than skin and bone."

Over time, Jamieson learned to brush off such scrutiny whenever he walked into a room but so, too, did those taunts fuel his fire to make the most of his stature.

"Your mindset shifts around it. You grow into it and become a little bit more comfortable as you fill out. To be fair it probably provided a bit of motivation in terms of 'bugger it, one day I'll show you'.

"When I think about it now, it's probably one of my greatest physical assets."

With few bowlers in world cricket able to leverage such levers, Jamieson is intent on savouring his once uncomfortable trait.

"Batters are so used to facing certain height with certain trajectories so when they face someone a little bit different it can surprise them a little bit.

"It's just how do you put other strings to your bow around that. I'm very grateful to have that height because if I was 6 foot I don't think I would be playing international cricket, that's for sure."

Those other skills Jamieson references are the lethal inswinger he developed over winter; slower ball variations, yorkers and lifting his speed, with the aim of consistently hitting the 140km-mark, though not at the risk of compromising rhythm.

"I've put on a little bit over the last six months. At the backend of last season I was early 130s where this summer I've been touching early 140s, not all the time, but it's a progression and hopefully with more technical, strength and conditioning work it will trend up."

These days Jamieson's height continues to garner attention. How could it not after his starring role in helping the Black Caps reach the No 1 test ranking and stand on the verge of the maiden five-day world championship final?

His first year of test cricket, which captured 36 wickets from six games at a 13.3 average, including 11-117 in his last outing against Pakistan in Christchurch, and 226 runs at 56.5, could not have swung any better.

Jamieson could walk into his local coffee shop on his knees and not fly under the radar.

"It's hard not to be seen when you're 6 foot 8. People generally see a tall guy and they stare at you anyway. I'm not sure whether that's the case or it's about some of the cricket stuff," he says with a chuckle.

"It's amazing to see the public get behind the cricket and enjoy the success the team is having at the moment. It's a great ride and I'm trying to embrace it."

With father Michael, a punishing Papatoetoe premier batsman, blazing a trail cricket was always at the forefront but not the only competing sporting pursuit for a young Jamieson.

Rugby league featured prominently in his early years. He played fullback and centre for the Papakura Sea Eagles before a move to the second-row and the size of south Auckland's Polynesian athletes combined to curtail that venture.

Basketball lasted longer – Jamieson's trajectory naturally leading him down this path through intermediate and high school. In Year 11, though, juggling basketball and cricket left him spent.

In any case, Jamieson says he did not possess the athleticism nor desire for the grunt work required.

"I'm tall but I can't jump very high and I like popping out to the corner and shooting rather than being the big guy doing the dirty work under the rim. That naturally pushed me away from basketball."

A poster of Nathan Astle – during his fearless double ton against England at Lancaster Park – donned Jamieson's wall as a youngster. He later watched in awe as Shane Bond ripped through Australia's batting greats, and anoints Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson, Jacob Oram and Chris Cairns as all-rounders he admired.

"You have moments in time when you start chasing something else but cricket always seemed to come back to the front of the queue.

"I always enjoyed the challenges that come within the game, across formats and the intricacies."

An opening batsman for three-years at Auckland Grammar, the turning point in Jamieson's career arrived at a tournament in Christchurch when then New Zealand under-19 bowling coach Dayle Hadlee spotted his bowling potential.

Prior to that Jamieson was never a compelling prospect, describing himself as "a bit of a battler".

One impressive seam up day bowling out of seven, when he snaffled four for not much on a green top, was enough to convince Hadlee the tools were there.

"In my mind I got pretty lucky making that under-19s side," Jamieson says. "That was probably the first moment I started to think cricket was an option. Before that I knew I wanted to play cricket but I didn't know what I wanted to do – I was just blindly going towards this dream without knowing whether it was a reality."

Playing for the NZ under-19s, while simultaneously training with Canterbury, Jamieson was now in the system.

Hadlee was far from satisfied with Jamieson's trundling medium pace efforts, however.

Treading treacle was out; hitting the crease hard was in.

"I would love to see footage of how I used to run in and bowl. I used to just about walk into the crease and bowl these little [medium-pacers] and swing the ball a little bit.

"It was literally like a switch had been flicked in my mind. I could bowl faster, I started getting fired up, and there was more bounce. I fell in love with bowling and I realised at that point that was my path to try and get higher. Whilst I still love batting, I saw that as my ticket to move forward in the game."

Jamieson first peaked national consciousness when he scored 101 from 111 balls for the New Zealand XI against England in March, 2018.

Taking 6-7 in a Twenty20 match for Canterbury against Auckland in early 2019 cemented interest, yet he attributes shifting home later that year, and working under Aces coach Heinrich Malan, as the catalyst for breaking into the closed-shop Black Caps bowling ranks.

Injuries to Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult opened the door for a call-up to the ill-fated Boxing Day test tour of Australia and while he did not feature there, Jamieson made his One-Day-International debut two months later against India, scoring 25 not out with Ross Taylor and claiming 2-42, including a scalp in his first over.

"It was almost a relief to know that I can succeed, contribute, at this level. It was very emotional. It takes a while to sink in, it's a pinch yourself moment."

As his captivating test performances since attest, his ODI debut was no fluke.

Jamieson now occupies illustrious company in that only Sir Richard Hadlee (15) and Daniel Vettori (12) hold better match returns for New Zealand than his 11-wicket Christchurch haul. As the ethos the Kane Williamson-led Black Caps demand, though, Jamieson is more team than personally driven.

Charging in alongside Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner emphasised the selflessness needed to hunt as a bowling pack.

"It doesn't really matter who gets wickets as long as we take 20. Those moments winning games are what I cherish the most. Sitting in the changing room with a beer, music playing, the boys laughing and taking the piss out of each other… I say to myself 'how cool is this?'

"I'm very fortunate to come into a New Zealand side with world-class players and one of the greatest eras in our history."

IPL riches are expected to soon come knocking but nothing will ever compare to the sensation of winning test matches.

"Those have easily been some of the best periods of my life. There's nothing like the challenge of test cricket – you don't get that same sort of rush; you don't go through that amount of effort to get that end result. It doesn't happen over three hours they happen over spells, sessions, days. It's underestimated how hard it is to bat that long; to come back and bowl your fourth spell or be in the field for 150 overs.

"Guys are knackered at the end and that's what makes it so special. New Zealand plays less test matches than others so we certainly cherish them when they come around."

As he reflects on his sumptuous summer and contemplates future aspirations, having turned 26 last December and risen to be ranked the world's fifth best all-rounder, Jamieson appears well grounded; well aware he's yet to perform in foreign conditions and determined to be no flash in the pan statistic.

"I want to be part of this group for 10 years. That's probably a realistic age timeframe.

"The challenges of overseas tours, how can I contribute in different ways to winning games. India and Australia are the two big ones. There's some games and series to be won there, I think, hopefully across my career. There's World Cups and test championships – that's the sort of stuff I want to do; be part of successful teams.

"Hopefully whenever my career finishes I can play a part in achieving some of those things."

Jamieson can already look back and laugh at that gangly kid once mocked for his height.

He's sure showing them.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission