Marco Jansen showed at Centurion and the Wanderers that he is born to play Test cricket, writes MARK KEOHANE for Independent Newspapers.
Klerksdorp has produced its fair share of sporting royalty. The late Phil Masinga made his way into the world via Klerksdorp, and would play 58 times for Bafana and enjoyed success with Leeds United in the English Premier League, with Salernitana and Bari in Italy’s Serie A, and with Jomo Cosmos and Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa.
Then there’s Australia’s top-order batting sensation, Marnus Labuschagne who, in December 2021, was rated the No 1 batter in the ICC Test batting rankings, and who in 2020 was named the ICC Men’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year, Australia’s Test Player of the Year and one of the five Cricketers of the Year by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
Labuschagne, 27 years old, averages 58.67 in Test cricket.
Queensland is his home, but Klerksdorp is where it all started for Labuschagne, whose family moved to Australia when he was 10 years old.
Labuschagne has played 22 Tests and batted in 38 innings. He has scored six centuries and 12 half-centuries, which means he gets to 50 or more every second time he takes guard in a Test match. That is a super statistic.
Six years after Labuschagne took his first breath in Klerksdorp, enter Marcus Jansen and his twin brother, Duan.
Jansen in the past fortnight has introduced himself to the global cricketing audience in the most fiery way. He has bowled with heart, pace and with passion. He has taken 12 wickets in two Tests against Indian’s finest, and at the Wanderers he strode to the crease in the first innings, batting at No 7, and immediately took aim at India’s potent pace attack, especially Jasprit Bumrah, who spearheads the India attack and is one of the finest international new-ball bowlers.
Bumrah, a veteran when compared to the 21-year-old Jansen, welcomed the youngster to Test cricket with a barrage of short deliveries. Jansen took blows to the arm, shoulder and upper body, but he kept swinging and never took a step backwards or towards square leg. He stood every inch as tall as his 2.06 metres, and the quicker Bumrah bowled, the stronger Jansen’s response.
I absolutely loved this cameo of a battle, and it escalated to an even more passionate and fiery exchange when Bumrah batted. Jansen immediately went short and into the body. He struck Bumrah on the upper arm, shoulder and body.
The result was a mid-pitch showdown and plenty of spicy chat.
This was Test cricket, in which two players refused to concede anything.
I absolutely loved it and I loved the fire in Jansen’s belly, his confidence and his mental strength in wanting to go toe to toe with one of the best teams in the world.
Many a pretender has promised, but never delivered in the all-rounder role for the Proteas in the past few years. To have a left-arm quick who bats right-handed and is very good in the field is gold, but add in the mental resolve that Jansen displayed at Centurion and the Wanderers and the kid is closer to platinum than gold.
Jansen, in his first two Tests, has already delivered on his promise. His impact has been immediate. He takes wickets and breaks partnerships. His lean frame could be misinterpreted as physically fragile, but there is nothing vulnerable about his heart, his head and his approach to Test cricket.
Many talented all-rounders have played Test cricket for the Proteas, but as many have failed to cope with the mental demands of the game’s highest level.
Jansen is the exception. The tougher the moment, the bigger his response.
He has shown he can bowl, but in just 20 first-class matches, his five half-centuries, which includes a career-high of 87 and an unbeaten 70 a month ago when playing for South Africa A against India A, proves he can bat.
For now, he is a left-arm fast bowler who is comfortable as a right-handed lower-order batter. In time, he will be a Test all-rounder, capable of doing damage with ball and bat.
Jansen is rare in what he offers the Proteas in terms of his cricketing gifts, but it is his mental resolve that can’t be coached. Some players are born to play cricket and others are born to play Test cricket. Jansen is of the latter elite.
Jansen, in his Test debut at Centurion, got five wickets across the two innings, including that of India captain Virat Kohli.
The significance of his bowling effort was that it put Jansen among names like Allan Donald, Lance Klusener and Vernon Philander as players to have done this on Test debut for the Proteas.
That’s pretty special company for Jansen, but not unexpected from a player who is pretty special.