Batters wait patiently for tall bowlers to deliver full balls. They talk about the floatiness of these deliveries. When the ball is over-pitched, they go into attack mode.
Because of this, tall bowlers rarely pitch the ball up. Instead, they stay on their best length and keep the batter stuck on the crease. The problem is that to get a lot of swing, you need to bowl fuller. So throughout the history of cricket, you don’t see a lot of tall bowlers in Test cricket over 80 miles per hour consistently swinging the ball.
Today, Kyle Jamieson bowled very full, swung the ball massively, touched 87mph, while delivering it from 2.3 metres which is 30cm higher than a standard seam bowler. His Test bowling average is 14.13. This is a scary collection of skills in one person. If you were designing a creature in a lab to be a perfect seamer, this is pretty close to what you’d choose.
There have been many changes to bowling styles over the years. After the war, the most common form of delivery was the outswinger. It dominated cricket until the West Indies method of seam bowling took over.
And while West Indies had quite varied bowlers, their fundamental skill was pretty simple: fast bowlers, who were tall, and who got something off the surface, not through the air. The thought process was that swing is fickle and can disappear. Fast and tall will last you through the day.
The need for speed has changed what we look for in bowlers. Speed and seam can go together, as Jasprit Bumrah, Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada, among others, have shown us. But few bowlers have swung the ball at speed. And those who do tend to be left-armed, which is an advantage already, as it generally allows them to over-pitch more. Or short and fast guys with a full natural length.
It’s not that the tallest bowlers can’t swing the ball. Rather, it’s because their fuller balls are the easiest to handle, and they have so many other advantages naturally, so they rarely develop the skills. Joel Garner, Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose, Steven Finn, and Morne Morkel could occasionally swing the ball, but their strength is hitting the track on a length.
When you have tall bowlers swinging the ball, it’s either only for short periods or from bowling more slowly. Jason Holder is an example of that in modern cricket. His speeds are significantly less than the traditional six-foot-plus quick, and so he gets consistent swing.
But Kyle Jamieson is quicker than Holder, and he’s certainly more than a bowler who can just swing it occasionally. He’s a proper tall fast-medium consistent swing bowler. Test cricket really hasn’t seen many of those ever. And he can move it both ways, and also perform his craft from around the wicket. He’s got a magic toolbox. For someone who came late into bowling, either Jamieson is an excellent mimic, or a natural for seam positions.
And facing someone like Jamieson is already an extra challenge. He is a faster bowler than most players his height, but any bowler of his size is tougher to pick up. Australia used to call Morkel a monster because of his release point.
Test match batting is something you get good at by consistently practising the same skills until you can filter information quickly enough to face someone at 80 miles per hour. Jamieson’s so tall that his release point is way higher than average. There is an adjustment that needs to be made for that which isn’t easy to make at his speed.
But that’s only the first problem with his height; the second is the bounce. Bowlers have, at that height, a near-permanent tennis-ball bounce. If you’ve ever played cricket with both a tennis ball and a proper ball, you’ll understand the difference in facing both. Those kinds of balls need different shots. So this means that, in a way, shots played to a tall bowler have to be different to others. His height makes the game different.
Now, add swing.
Kyle Jamieson has the third-best Test bowling average of any player with 40 wickets. If you discount the bowlers after 1900 who had no assistance from the days before liquid manure was used in pitch preparation, he’s No.1.
Now we know he won’t keep this average up. Quite apart from the very helpful people on social media who keep pointing out that he hasn’t played in Asia yet, Jamieson is not seven runs a wicket better than Malcolm Marshall, the bowler with the lowest average of anyone with 200 wickets. For fun, the next two bowlers on this list are Garner and Ambrose, two other tall men.
Jamieson’s first-class bowling average when not playing Tests is 24.21 from 28 matches. There will be a regression to the mean. People will get more used to him; he’s not bowled that much in his career to date, so with IPL and Test duties, he’s about to get a workload that will chip away at him.
But this is an incredible start; and that’s before you even glance at his batting, in which he currently averages 47, towering over his first-class record of 21.
This has been a remarkable run of eight Tests. If it happened in the middle of someone’s career, it would be a highlight, the fact it’s occurred at the start is even more amazing.
So what does all this make when you combine it? Jamieson’s only obvious weakness is that he’s not a 90mph bowler. He’s accurate, swings it both ways, and delivers it from a comical height. If he was regularly over 90mph, he’d have achieved seam bowling’s singularity.
So far in this Test, he’s averaged more swing than everyone except Tim Southee, at height. This is such a weird thing to play against.
Look at his wickets in this match. Rohit Sharma’s was a simple outswinger that swung early and then travelled a long away, taking the edge. Rishabh Pant’s was a rare poor ball, and an even more poorly executed shot – but one that was also induced by the extra bounce. Ishant Sharma faced a ball angling into the stumps that swung before landing, and then hit a trampoline when it pitched. To follow that up, Jamieson started a yorker to Bumrah that tailed in from well outside off stump, as if it had a homing beacon on it.
And then there was Virat Kohli’s delivery. This pitched outside off stump, went very straight, and then seamed back sharply. It was essentially an offspinner bowled from 230 centimetres at 138kph. I am not sure how you play that. And apparently, neither is Kohli.
Think about this New Zealand attack. They have three of their best bowlers ever, 827 wickets between them. Three completely different styles of bowling that complement each other well. They’ve travelled the world, carried New Zealand to No.1 in the rankings, and into the World Test Championship final. And coming into this match, had New Zealand chosen a spinner, most probably one of Trent Boult or Neil Wagner would have missed out.
And while the others are more experienced and tested, given the combination of all Jamieson’s skills and his recent record, his spot was clearly safe.
This is a great era for seam bowlers. Guys like Suranga Lakmal and Sharma have pulled in ridiculous numbers after years of huge bowling averages. Since the start of 2018, there isn’t a Test seamer with 50 wickets who has taken them at more than 30. Yet there are two, Ishant and Holder, under 20. All these things have to be taken into consideration, as do Jamieson’s eight Tests being split between New Zealand and England.
But he’s averaging under 15 and taking a wicket every 36 balls. This isn’t normal, no matter what the conditions are.
And, this isn’t just about natural talent and an incredibly handy combination of skills. There are plenty of bowlers who arrive with a natural talent that their opponents work out over time. That process slows them down, after which it’s about how they adapt. Jamieson’s end-of-play chat with the ICC crew showed that he recognised what he done wrong (relatively speaking) on Saturday and corrected it on Sunday by bowling fuller.
This is someone in his 36th first-class match, who began bowling only a few years back, adjusting his length to bowl unnaturally full. This adjustment lead to him taking his fifth five-wicket haul in seven and a half Tests.
Kyle Jamieson has height, some speed, swing, seam, control and the ability to change his plans. He’s not perfect, but if you’re standing at the other end when the ball is swinging, it may just feel as though he is.