As a teenager Kyle Jamieson dreamt of playing in the NBA. His sports teacher in school tried to convert him to a javelin thrower; his father wanted him to be a sprinter, he tried his hand at rugby and squash too. He could have been a boxer, for he seems to have mastered the art of landing knockout blows.
India’s cricketers have soaked the venom of his punches more than most. Last year, in his audition, he made telling blows with the ball and bat to knock India down. And now, at the grandest stage, he landed granite-punches.
A five-for and 21 runs in the first innings, he dealt the sweetest of blows an hour into the first session of the final day. The scalps of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara that all but ended India’s prospects in the game.
In the pair’s longevity India invested their hopes of coming out of the sunniest day in Southampton unwounded. A respectable draw if they stuck on like they often do, or a victory if Kohli was in the mood for his most defining knock in Test cricket yet.
The pair seemed not to be burdened by either of these thoughts. Neither regressively defensive nor injudiciously aggressive, they purred along smoothly, stealing and smuggling runs, nullifying Tim Southee’s deception with resolute defence and sharp judgment.
Kohli’s feet were striding out precisely and fluently; Pujara was more progressive than he was in the first innings. Together, they seemed to blunt Southee and Jamieson. The sun-dried surface was utmost benevolent, bereft of the caprices of swing.
But Jamieson, though in the nascence of his career, has cricketing wisdom that belies his experience. He began mixing up lengths, alternating between back-of-length and fuller length, intent more in setting Kohli up rather than foxing him with extravagant seam movement. He went a bit wider off the crease and made one angle in and straighten after pitching. The next ball too was slightly shorter but held its line. Both times, Kohli was beaten.
Kohli, however, anticipated the big nip-backer veering onto his pads like in the first innings.
He was expecting it every delivery, the shuffle across was more firm and decisive, ensuring that the right foot was not falling across too much, so that he would be better equipped to deal with the threat.
Kohli waited eagerly for another one that curled in, perhaps much fuller. But instead, Jamieson pulled his length back a bit, shorter than his usual back-of-length, and made the ball shape away a shade. The in-ducker playing in his mind, Kohli nibbled fatally at the ball. More than the movement, which was subtle, it was the length that deceived him. And the bounce the ball generated.
It was thus the third time he had devoured India’s talisman in six duels. Twice with the out-swinger and once with the nip-backer. At that precise moment faded India’s distant dreams of a victory. There on, survival was their only port of call. For that though, they needed Pujara to bat long and deep. He had already absorbed close to 80 balls and had looked largely untroubled in his stay, especially in dealing with Jamieson.
But Kohli’s departure—the method he was dismissed—seemed to suddenly cloud Pujara’s mind with doubts. Sprung up a familiar failing of his, which he had carefully kept out till then. He hung his bat uncertainly at a Jamieson delivery that held its line. Pujara shaped to leave the ball before he had a split-second change of mind and plonked his bat in the path of the ball.
At 72/4 and with nearly an entire day’s play left, India were left bleeding on the floor. It was the third time in six encounters he had consumed Pujara, once almost in an identical fashion (the other time, he made him hook). He gives little that he makes batsmen play uncharacteristic shots.
Jamieson almost landed the third vital punch when he had Pant jabbing at a delivery angled across him, only for Southee to grass a routine chance. In the end, it only served in stretching India’s agony.