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Marco Jansen: 'We don't take anything for granted because Mother Cricket will kick you in the backside'

South Africa's towering left-arm quick talks about his upbringing and the hard yards to get to the top

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
23-Aug-2022
Marco Jansen had a strong start to the series against England at Lord's  •  Getty Images

Marco Jansen had a strong start to the series against England at Lord's  •  Getty Images

Koos Jansen spotted the cricketing talent of his twin sons, Marco and Duan, when they were nine-years-old and ran with it. Much like Richard Williams, who masterminded Venus and Serena's rise to being among the best players tennis has ever seen, Koos made it his mission to train and talk to his kids about the sport he believed they would excel in, becoming cricket's equivalent of King Richard. Let's call him King Koos.
Like Williams, and in keeping with a few other famous cricketing dads, Koos Jansen wasn't always gentle in his methods.
"There have been some very tough times when my dad was very tough on us," Marco Jansen, South Africa's 22-year old tearaway, said. "There was no sugarcoating. Back then, he spoke to us in the same way he is speaking to us now. Nothing has changed. That enabled us to grow and mature a bit quicker than all the other kids when we were a bit young.
"Since we were growing up, he is the one that has been - not the tough guy - but harder on us, especially when it comes to sport." Koos demanded the best from his boys in other spheres too, such as academics. "But we weren't that great," Jansen said.
By Jansen's own admission, and despite some eye-watering numbers (164 and 80 respectively) in a T20 game for example, the pair were not stand-out youth players either. "My high school career didn't go well. I wasn't the top schoolboy cricketer," Jansen said.
Neither of he nor Duan played in an Under-19 World Cup and both made their names as net bowlers. In a professional era where the pathways are clearly laid out, and usually followed, theirs is the stuff of fairytales, which is why when Jansen made his Test debut, with only 18 first-class appearances to his name (and of those only half in South Africa's top-tier of domestic cricket), he could barely believe his good fortune. "If you had told me you will make your debut against India in South Africa, I would have laughed and said, no, there's no chance," he said.
There was an element of his selection which was about him being in the right place at the right time. South Africa were without Anrich Nortje for that India series and would have picked Duanne Olivier for the Boxing Day Test but he had not fully recovered from Covid-19 and was nursing a hamstring niggle. When Jansen's name appeared on the team-sheet, it was a surprise and he found himself under scrutiny immediately.
He was nervous and his first spell was wayward but he returned later in the match and showed off an ability to swing the ball at pace, to exploit any bounce and to challenge even the best. In India's second innings, Jansen dismissed Mayank Agarwal, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Mohammed Siraj to finish his debut match with five wickets.
He has since added KL Rahul - three times - Cheteshwar Pujara and most recently Joe Root to his list of wickets and continues to ask serious questions of marquee players. In Root's case, Jansen struck him on the pad with a delivery that shaped in and the amount of movement on offer at Lord's surprised Jansen himself. "I didn't expect the ball to swing that much," Jansen said. "The plan was to stick around that off stump or fourth stump area and let the ball pass through there. If it nips back then it brings all dismissals into play and if it just straightens, you can nick him off. When you get the big names out, it's always a good feeling."
The best, in fact. Though Jansen has an IPL deal and was among the players who opted out of the series against Bangladesh earlier in the year, he spoke of Test cricket as the highlight of becoming an international. "I enjoy the red-ball format. It's the format where what you put in, you get out. If you bowl well, you will get wickets. If you bat well, you will score runs," he said. "That's what I have enjoyed the most. And just being around the guys, they make it lekker [nice] to play the game."
As the youngest in the group, Jansen is soaking up the knowledge from players who are much more experienced than him, much like he did with his dad.
"Like today, we had a lekker long practice session, so then you chat to them and you ask all the nitty gritty stuff," he said of South Africa's preparations for the second Test at Old Trafford. "They help you think out of the box. And there's the coaches as well. They bring a different perspective. There's a lot of angles or perspectives you have at your disposal to try and figure out what you can do to give yourself the best chance to perform."
There's also some advice about what not to do. Naturally, because of Jansen's frame - he stands at 2.06 metres tall - there are concerns about overbowling him and injuries. He has already overcome what was turning into a stress fracture of the lower back. "I've had problems when I was 18 or 19 - a semi-stress fracture in the lower back. I have grown a lot quicker for my body to adjust to my muscles and all those kinds of stuff."
To try to prevent future issues, he has to work specifically on his lower body and abdominal area. "My core has to be strong. My glutes, my lower body have to be very strong because that's where most of my loads go. Because I twist a lot, if my core muscles are quite strong, then I have a base to work from."
That's how Jansen's entire career has been. He has the foundations laid by his family (and he wants you to know that Koos was also always there for "a bit of love and a bit of softness") and he built on those by almost immediately joining the best cricketers in the country and turning out regularly for them. And it's not just any international team.
After the last year South Africa have had in Tests, and their performance at Lord's, there's already talk this pace pack could become one of the best going around. Asked if he thought the South Africa attack was as good as it could be, Jansen checked himself. "I wouldn't say we are unbeatable. We put in the hard yards and we are still putting in the hard yards," he said. "We don't take anything for granted because we know when we do that, Mother Cricket is going to kick you on the backside."
Or make that, Papa (King) Koos.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent