Meet Marco Jansen, the 6ft 8in prototype bowler taking aim at England

·6-min read
Marco Jansen of South Africa bowls during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Marco Jansen of South Africa bowls during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images

If you were to develop a prototype young cricketer it would look a lot like Marco Jansen. Left-arm pace bowlers are perhaps the most coveted type of cricketer in the modern game; Jansen combines this angle with pace and 6ft 8in height.

He is also an outstanding athlete, and a good enough batsman to have batted at seven during his nascent Test cricket career. Add these qualities together and you have a cricketer who could be among the most captivating players of his generation: think Sam Curran, with the same competitiveness but a foot taller.

Aged 22, Jansen has already provided ample indication that his gifts translate readily to the sport’s highest stages. Before his 18th birthday, Jansen had already troubled Virat Kohli in the nets. His potential attracted Mumbai Indians, the Indian Premier League behemoth, to sign him aged 20, before he had played an international game.

When he did make his South Africa Test debut, at the end of last year, Jansen dismissed Kohli. Five Tests into his career, all against India and New Zealand, Jansen has 28 wickets at 20.35 apiece, while also chipping in with some useful lower-order runs.

Jansen considers his dismissal of Mayank Agarwal on debut — his second Test wicket, but first of a top-order batsman — as the exemplar of his approach. With the first ball of his spell, Jansen angled a ball across the right-hander on a good length, kissing the outside edge.

“That's my perfect delivery because I put it where I wanted to put it. And then if the ball comes back, it comes back. It didn't; it just went on with the line and he nicked off,” he explains. In the quintessential left-armer’s mould, Jansen aims to swing the ball back into the right-hander, so that he can threaten the stumps when the ball swings, and threaten the outside edge when it doesn’t.

“If it's not hitting off-stump the ball must go between the off-stump and the danger line. If the ball flies through that area consistently it doesn't matter on what pitch you bowl, where you're playing - you're giving yourself the best chance to get a wicket.

“Then mix it up with my aggression, meaning one or two short balls or whatever the case may be, maybe changing a fielder from this side to that side just to make the batter think of what I'm going to bowl.”

It amounts to a similar threat to Mitchell Johnson - along with Dale Steyn, one of Jansen’s heroes. The tantalising appeal of Jansen is that he could add greater consistency while matching Johnson’s venom.

“Batters don't face a lot of bowlers that are as tall as I am, never mind being left-arm as well. So I definitely know it's a bit of an advantage.” Jansen is competitive too: in his second Test, he bowled a series of bouncers to Jasprit Bumrah - a former team-mate at Mumbai whom he considers a friend - and the two had an altercation in the middle.

Marco Jansen of South Africa (3rd R) is congratulated by his team mates for taking the wicket of Keaton Jennings of England Lions with a catch during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Marco Jansen of South Africa (3rd R) is congratulated by his team mates for taking the wicket of Keaton Jennings of England Lions with a catch during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images

The roots of this combativeness go back to the very start of Jansen’s life, which has been shaped by his relationship with his twin, Duan - another left-arm pace bowler and useful lower-order batsman, who is now a professional cricketer too.

In their backyard in Potchefstroom, “We would put two pairs of stumps on each side and then just go at it,” Marco recalls. Watching on was their father, Koos, a former professional rugby player.

“He pushed us to be better all the time because he saw what potential we had growing up. He would tell us straight if we didn't do well. And also when we did well he would also tell us ok - he'd balance it quite nicely, being the drill sergeant but also understanding that it's not always going to go how you want it to go.

“My dad raised us to just try and challenge each other whenever. Doesn't matter what it was, whether it was in rugby or cricket or athletics. We always tried to push each other to do better.

“It would just get pretty heated and then we’d get angry at each other and we'd play even harder. We normally burst out in a fight, but then my dad would step in and he'd say, ‘No, listen, this isn't how it's done. You play hard and that's where it stops, there's no fighting.’”

Even by Afrikaans standard, sport was dominant in the Jansen household. The twins excelled in rugby, cricket and athletics.

Like most Afrikaans boys, rugby was Jansen’s first love. But aged 16, he underwent a growth spurt: each month, he remembers, he gained a centimetre of height, but he did not grow outwards in the same way. “We kind of made a calculated decision saying that now we're going to try and make the cricket thing work.”

Jansen emphatically has done. In his embryonic career, he has already gained pace - his average pace in Tests is 83mph, and he can reach 90mph. Even more importantly, as Jansen has become stronger he has become better at maintaining pace. “Now I can easily bowl two, three, four spells in a day at similar pace.”

For all that his bowling is the most striking part of the Jansen package, he is also paying heed to his aggressive batting: he aims to bat seven regularly in Test cricket, which would balance South Africa’s side perfectly. “The plan is to try and develop into an out and out allrounder.”

Marco Jansen of South Africa hits a six during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Marco Jansen of South Africa hits a six during day two of the tour match between England Lions and South Africa - Steve Bardens/Getty Images

As a boy, Jansen was mostly too busy playing sport to have time for watching it. But one of his most cherished memories is in 2012, “when the Proteas came here and they won to become number one [in the world].” While South Africa are a long way from such heights, they arrive at Lord’s in top spot in the World Test Championship, and eyeing a return to Lord’s next year, for the final.

Jansen is central to their ambitions of being there. In time, he hopes, his twin will join him in a South Africa shirt. “We talk about it a lot actually but it’s very hard to get into the set-up,” he smiles. “That’s one of our dreams.”