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Marco Jansen, a kid who beat Virat Kohli in the nets, is now a Mumbai Indian

The young South African beanpole looks forward to his first IPL season

Saurabh Somani
Marco Jansen bowls

Marco Jansen: "The goal is to try and get 140-plus as my average speed. That must be the main reason why they [Mumbai Indians] looked at me"  •  Koos Jansen

The nets at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg adjoin the Bullring. You walk through the stands and onto an elevated patch where there is room for several batsmen to have a hit, and plenty of space to give the ball a good whack. In early 2018, Virat Kohli batted there ahead of the Johannesburg Test. He was still stewing over India's series loss and coming off a combative press conference in Centurion, where he had made a sublime 153, the innings of the series.
In the Wanderers nets, appearing to be in a worked up state, which he usually can turn into a zen-like focus, Kohli is beaten three times in a row outside off stump.
The bowler is not Indian, he's not even a regular net bowler. He's Marco Jansen, all of 17 years old. And if it looks like he's in two places at once, it's because his twin brother Duan is there too. Both bowling left-arm pace, both nearer seven feet than six, the brothers will end the nets session by taking a photo with Kohli, which they will go on to enlarge and hang up in a flat they'll share.
Three years since drawing a "Well bowled" from Kohli, Marco might find himself bowling to the man again, this time in the most elite league in the world, when IPL 2021 comes around.
Marco was bought at his base price, Rs 20 lakh (close to US$28,000) by the Mumbai Indians, and Zaheer Khan, the director of cricket operations for the franchise, said after the auction that they were expecting a bidding war for the bowler. Team owner Akash Ambani said Mumbai had been "tracking Marco for the last two years". When the most complete franchise in T20, with a record of identifying potential early, shows interest in you, people sit up and take notice.
"I actually can't believe it, if you think of it like that," Marco says. "To be honest, three years ago my brother and I were talking about playing for the varsity first team and never even thought about IPL. So to be where I am today, I'm very blessed and honoured. It's really a privilege.
"I'm 6ft 8in. At the start of this year, I went for testing in Pretoria and they had a speed gun there. I think my average speed was about 137-138kph. My top speed was 141.2 or 141.3.
"I just have to get in a jump, because I'm quite thin for my height, so I must get a little bit stronger. The goal is to try and get 140-plus as my average speed. That must be the main reason why they [Mumbai Indians] looked at me. And that I can also middle it a little bit [with the bat] as well. I'm not going to say anything more on that (chuckles), but yeah, I can hit the ball."
The Jansens' father, Koos, a former rugby union player for Free State Cheetahs, says he knew he had something special on his hands during an Under-9s school match.
"Marco opened the batting. It was small boys, so they were playing only 20 overs each, and he scored 164 not out," Koos remembers. "And Duan came in at No. 4 and scored over 80. I realised that for a little boy of nine years old to concentrate for 20 overs and score 164, he's got to have a special talent; both of them. So I explored that.
"We usually went to the nets. I trained them there, bowled to them, taught them some techniques. They were talented, I saw that, and I knew that they are going to be all right in the cricket scenery."
Marco is a little bit taller than Duan but also 15 minutes younger, which gives Duan certain older-sibling rights, like getting to keep that photo of them with Kohli when Marco moved to Port Elizabeth to play domestic cricket for the Warriors.
"He's definitely motivated to get to the stage where I am," Marco says of his brother. "And he's just as good as well. We're basically the same player. He can also hit a long ball, and he actually bowled quicker than me in high school. And we're more or less the same pace now as well. It's just literally, I've got more opportunities at the right time."
Koos, who has taken an active hand in furthering his sons' cricketing careers, understands that only one might make it big in South Africa. "Because they are exactly the same type of bowlers and batsmen, there's only place for one in our set-up.
"So Duan is taking the longer route to get to his dreams, but he's still playing very much, playing franchise cricket over here. I spoke to Duan [after the IPL auction] and he's over the moon. They're always supportive of each other. There's no jealousy between them. They are very competitive, but they are very happy when one of them does well."
They sometimes share in the punishment too. Once, on a rugby field when they were in school, Marco faced the referee's wrath for a tackle done wrong. He got sent off. "Then Duan took the ball because it was a penalty for us and the referee asked him why he was still on the field because he had just sent him off!"
That net session in 2018 wasn't the first time Marco was bowling to Indian batsmen with international experience. In 2017, during an India A tour of South Africa, the twins bowled to Manish Pandey, Karun Nair and Abhinav Mukund, as well as future internationals Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan. Watching from the sidelines was Rahul Dravid, then the India A coach.
"He was very humble and it's something that I looked up to," Marco says of meeting Dravid. "I'm a player who always gets on top of everybody, or of a player who thinks he's very good. It taught me to stay humble and not think I'm the best in the world, or I'm better than the game or something."
Likewise, the IPL will not be Marco's first trip to the subcontinent. He was part of a 2019 South Africa A tour to India, and was called up as back-up for South Africa's Test squad in Pakistan earlier this year.
At the IPL, he will get to share a dressing room with Trent Boult, a natural idol for a left-arm quick bowler.
"Firstly, I just want to get to know them as people and from there on, try and tap into their cricket brains as much as possible, especially with Trent, [Jasprit] Bumrah, all those guys. Try and ask them as many questions as possible and just enjoy the experience. It's not every day that a youngster who is 20 years old gets picked in the IPL, so I just want to go there with an open mind and enjoy every moment."
And what's the first thing he'll ask Boult once he has got to know him well enough?
"The best fishing spots," Marco says, laughing. Perhaps also a tip or two on getting batsmen to fish outside off? "Oh that too, of course."

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo