Marco Jansen: Wise head on young shoulders

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29 Dec 2021 | 03:56 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Marco Jansen: Wise head on young shoulders

After a tough outing in the first innings, the youngster produced a memorable performance on Day 4

The IPL couldn’t be farther away from Test cricket, in nearly every sense of the word. But eight months ago in Chennai, the world got its first glimpse of the mature head that is on the shoulders of young Marco Jansen. 

Uncapped and unknown to the world, Jansen, picked in the Mumbai Indians XI ahead of a red-hot Adam Milne, got taken apart in his very first over, with Kohli dispatching him for a pair of boundaries. The RCB skipper, in that over, took 14 runs in all. That’s a pretty high number when you’re defending 160, and, to make things worse, in that over Jansen committed a heinous crime: he overstepped. 

First impressions are everything, especially in a competition like IPL where people are itching to jump to conclusions, and the imprint Jansen left first-up was….not good.

By the end of the match, however, this unheard-of 20-year-old would end up redeeming himself.

After leaking 19 off his first 2 overs, it was Jansen who Rohit Sharma trusted to bowl 2 of the final 6 overs, with RCB needing 57 more to score an upset win. 

What ought to have been a regulation defeat for Mumbai was nearly flipped into a win single-handedly by the youngster, who conceded a total of 9 runs off his final two overs while taking a pair of wickets. 7 was what he was defending in the final over and Jansen nearly did the impossible, taking it all the way to 1 needed off 1 ball.

The presence of superior and far experienced T20 players in the squad meant that Jansen got just one more game under his belt in the season, but those two overs revealed a lot about his character.

It was this very same bouncebackability that was on display in the second innings in Centurion as Jansen laboured his way to a four-wicket haul, undoubtedly the first of many. 

Even before he delivered his first ball in the Test, Jansen had it rough. “How dare he be selected over an in-form, red-hot Duanne Olivier,” people fumed.

And his actual showing with the ball on the first day added more fuel to the fire. The left-armer, who was entering the series on the back of a decent outing against India ‘A’, started his Test career with a rank full-toss outside off, a ball that would eventually turn out to be emblematic of how his day would go. 

He ended up spraying it all around, provided no control or consistency and leaked 12 boundaries, playing a major part in India getting to stumps on 272/3.

CSA would reveal hours after the end of the first day’s play that Jansen got in because Olivier was rested as precaution, but by then the damage had been done. Social media had identified its scapegoat. 

To bounce back the way he has, then, shows the wise head there is on young Jansen’s shoulders.

The Jansen that took to the field in the second innings was poles apart from the one that struggled in the first. In the second dig he looked settled, at ease and, in general, just comfortable.

In sport little moments can make a massive difference and as revealed by Temba Bavuma, the 42-balls Jansen spent at the crease on Day 3 did a whole lot of good to him, for it gave him the sense of belonging. It helped him settle.

"He (Jansen) confessed that the emotions and nerves of the occasion got the better of him and we saw in his batting that he was a lot more assured,” Bavuma said on Tuesday.

"The confidence that we know him to have actually shone through a lot more. He was relieved to have taken a wicket off his first ball and we hope he can grow from strength to strength."

Grow from strength-to-strength he did on Day 4. 

12.3 overs, 51 runs and 3 wickets. Drawing more false strokes on the day than all but two bowlers, Kagiso Rabada and Mohammed Siraj.

On Day 1, Jansen struggled for consistency. There was the odd snorter and the play-and-miss, yes, but far too often he dished out boundary balls. 9 of the 17 overs he bowled on the first day saw him concede a four. You cannot be that erratic at the international level, let alone on a bowler-friendly wicket where runs are hard to come by.

Against the right-handers, his problem was that he was either too wide or too straight. Though technically at the stumps, the over-the-wicket angle meant that there were too many balls that were flickable. Between cow-corner and long-leg, Jansen conceded 29 runs, 20 of which came in boundaries.

Right-handers vs Marco Jansen on Day 1 (Wagon-wheel)

On Day 4, Jansen conceded no boundaries in that region. Not only were his lines much better, but his lengths also probed the right-handers too, with plenty of deliveries attacking the body and cramping the batters for room. It was this hostility that earned him the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane (more on that later).

This improved discipline reflected in his figures. In the long six-over spell that Jansen bowled in the morning of the fourth day, four overs were maidens. His tight overs stopped India from running away with the game in the first session. 

Mid-game course correction, particularly ones that result in a complete 180° turnaround, is an art that is perfected by veterans. But here was Jansen doing it in his second ever outing in Test cricket having been decimated in the first, with none of his senior partners seemingly bowling too well.

Jansen’s showing on Day 4 itself served as a representation of his mental strength, but there was a passage of play post-lunch that pretty much made it clear that Jansen’s biggest weapon is his mind. 

In his 10th over of the innings, Jansen was smashed for four, six and four, off consecutive balls, by Rahane, who seemed to send out a message to the youngster with his stroke-making. The shots were filled with intent and authority and were almost meant to intimidate the bowler.

Jansen, though, would bounce back just six balls later, getting the better of the veteran through the very same ball that was hooked for six, only this time directed better.

This little battle, in a way, served as a microcosm of what he is all about. 

Not only his attitude, however, it will also be Jansen’s skill set that will excite the Proteas. 

At 6’8 Jansen is already among the top 1% in the game in terms of his height, and across two innings in Centurion he showed that he has quite the arsenal: a lethal stock delivery that leaves the right-hander, a nasty short one and the surprise delivery that swings late and comes back in. He’s also shown that, despite his towering figure, he can hit the lengths that draw the batsman’s edge.

You’ll have to go all the way back to 1970 to find the last instance of a South African left-arm seamer taking more than 50 Test wickets. Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe both promised but neither bowler’s career took off, with the duo playing just 11 Tests between them.

Jansen is already the first cricketer born in the 2000s to play Test cricket for South Africa. Very early days, but if his showing in Centurion is any evidence to go by, he is certain to become the first South African left-arm seamer in 50 years to bring up a century of Test wickets. 

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