Marco Jansen puts his versatility on display

On day one in Cape Town, he showed why South Africa are keen to stick with him

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Marco Jansen takes a close look at the ball, South Africa vs India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day, January 11, 2022

Marco Jansen is learning, and very quickly at that  •  AFP via Getty Images

Marco Jansen is not a gentle giant. Just ask Jasprit Bumrah. At the Wanderers, Jansen hit him twice in the three balls on the same spot with short-pitched deliveries that Bumrah wore on his right shoulder. When Jansen delivered a fourth short ball and Bumrah again defended with his body, Jansen sprayed him with a choice selection of unpleasantries.
But Jansen is also not a towering brute. He's better than that. Just look at the way he bowled to Cheteshwar Pujara at Newlands. He started his third spell with a full delivery that angled in and Pujara flicked him for four. Immediately, pulled his length back and got the ball to move in and find the top of Pujara's pad. Pujara offered no shot and while any lbw appeal was smothered by the height of impact, Jansen had issued a warning. With his next ball, he adjusted the line and had Pujara playing around fifth stump to find an edge.
That wicket was particularly important because South Africa had let the half-hours either side of lunch drift. Pujara and Virat Kohli's third-wicket stand had grown to 62 and loose deliveries were being offered at least once an over. On a pitch that offered less bounce than the Highveld surfaces that the teams have just come from, the bowlers had to call on other skills and Jansen showed that he has them.
"He has got a burning desire to play here. He has got X-factor and he is a tough character," Kagiso Rabada said. "That's what you are looking for. And then natural talent is there. He has the ability to win matches. He is an exciting prospect."
Today's play underlined exactly why South Africa have stuck with Jansen instead of go back to batting allrounder Wiaan Mulder. Jansen started searching for swing after India lost their openers early and pressure had to be applied. He moved the ball slightly away from Kohli and Pujara, who took time to settle but were able to leave well on length. Finally, at the end of that five-over spell, Jansen found the delivery he had been looking for when he beat Kohli with a ball that pitched on leg stump, swung late, veered towards off and beat his back-foot defence. Kohli's ribs were spared the hit but he was surprised. Then Jansen changed ends.
From the Wynberg side, Jansen chose to go around the wicket to bring the ball into the batters from outside off and force them to play more. Kohli left the first one but it was close to his off stump, he ducked under the second one, and blocked the third. In Jansen's next over, the last of the morning session, he only allowed one ball to be left alone, compared to 18 in his first five overs. His change of angle allowed him to get closer to the batters and demanded more from them than shouldering arms, ducking or watching the ball go through. That's what he used to dismiss Pujara after lunch.
Jansen could have had a second wicket two balls later when Ajinkya Rahane lunged to defend and edged but the chance was wide of slip. Three balls after that, Rahane was forward again but found the middle of the bat and pushed the ball through the covers for four. Kohli was able to play a similar shot and another straight past Jansen for four but the impressive aspect of that spell was how Jansen kept at it. While he punctuated his overs with short balls, he didn't appear to default to them just because. Instead, he worked on his cutters, tried to find the right line outside off that could capitalise on a mistake from the batters, and showed he understood the importance of small margins when it comes to length.
When Jansen bowled too full, he conceded 39 runs off 14 balls. But when he adjusted to a good length, he gave only six runs in 44 balls and took two wickets. The second of those was in his final spell of the day when R Ashwin was set up similarly to Pujara. First, Jansen tempted him by dangling a delivery outside off and Ashwin left, then Jansen changed his angle, got the ball to nip away from Ashwin and got a faint edge through to Kyle Verreynne.
Before that, Jansen completed a dismissal that may be more expected for a bowler of his height. He had Rishabh Pant undone by extra bounce as he tried to steer a delivery over gully but was caught there instead.
Those two wickets showed the versatility of Jansen, much like the kind of bowler Morne Morkel matured into towards the end of his career. After years of being known for bringing bounce to Steyn's swing, when Steyn was injured, it was Morkel who put in performances laced with reverse swing, starting with the tour to India in 2015. From that series onwards, Morkel enjoyed some of the biggest successes of his career, taking 91 wickets in 22 Tests at 22.90 compared to 218 wickets in 64 Tests at 29.66 before that series.
Jansen is also not Morkel. He is 10 centimetres taller (2 metres, 6 cms to Morkel's 1.96) playing in a team that is probably 10 steps behind where South Africa were when Morkel debuted. As a result, he might have to grow 10 times more quickly. Rabada thinks that's already happening. "Look at Marco, who has just come in. He is playing against Virat who has been one of the best players of this generation. What better learning can he take? Not much."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent