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News

The meteoric rise of 'introvert' Marco Jansen

He has had a breakout series after stepping in for the injured Nortje, and has now been picked in South Africa's ODI squad

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
17-Jan-2022
Umpire Marais Erasmus runs in as Jasprit Bumrah and Marco Jansen get embroiled in a mid-pitch confrontation, South Africa vs India, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day, January 5, 2021

Umpire Marais Erasmus runs in as Jasprit Bumrah and Marco Jansen get embroiled in a mid-pitch confrontation  •  AFP via Getty Images

Marco Jansen is a man of few words, until he steps onto a cricket field.
"I am a bit of an introvert but when I'm on the field, that's the one place where I want to express myself," he said, after his first stint as an international player. "All those emotions just show the passion and love I have for the game. If there is one place where I feel I can show my passion and emotions, it's on the field."
Not only will Jansen's debut series be remembered for being the most successful by a South African seamer in a three-match contest, but also for the exchange he had with his Mumbai Indians team-mate Jasprit Bumrah at the Wanderers. South Africa were going after the Indian tail in an attempt to ensure the target was as low as possible, Jansen bounced Bumrah several times and then sprayed him with unpleasantries.
At one point the two were eye to eye (or rather Jansen was looking down at Bumrah, who is a foot shorter than him) and there was the threat of something more serious happening but Jansen backed off while Bumrah smirked. Turns out, it was all just fun and games. "I played with Bumrah in the IPL. We are good friends but sometimes on the field things get heated," Jansen said. "You're playing for your country so you are not going to back down for anyone, and he did the same. There's no hard feelings, it was just in the heat of the moment, two players, giving their all for the country."
For Jansen, being able to represent the nation has come a little quicker than he thought it would. Despite spending most of 2021 as a non-playing member on South Africa's Test tours (to Pakistan and West Indies), in a squad with seven specialist seamers, he thought he would have to bide his time. "I have been in the Test squad previously but I didn't expect it (to play). I was hopeful that I would get picked," he said.
His first outing, at SuperSport Park, did not go as planned after he went wicket-less for 18.2 overs and appeared to struggle with his lengths. "I didn't start the way I wanted to. I was very, very nervous. It's normal for every player to get nervous," he said.
Then, he took the wicket of none other than Bumrah, who edged to third slip. Jansen bowled 85 more overs in the series and took 18 for 244, including a best of 4 for 31. He showed the advantage of variation but also the importance of height to extract awkward bounce off the South African surfaces. "I'm really glad that after that innings, I came back and contributed to the team," he said.
Now, he has a new challenge. With Anrich Nortje still out of action because of a persistent hip injury, Jansen has been included in the ODI squad. He has just 13 List A caps and has not played in the format for almost two years, since March 2020, so once again, he isn't quite sure he will get game time. "This is a call up I did not expect," he said. "I'm very glad and honoured to be selected in the squad. I just want to go there and try to learn as much as possible and if I get an opportunity, hopefully I'll grab it with both hands."
Jansen's inexperience extends across white-ball formats. He has also made just 13 T20 appearances but two of them have been at the IPL. That's the tournament that brought Jansen to the fore. He was part of the Mumbai Indians outfit and took his twin brother Duan, also a left-arm seamer, currently playing for North West, with him to the tournament. "We know everything about each other and he is my best friend. It's weird in some way that we are basically the same player," Jansen said. "He came along as a net bowler. He practiced with us. And he also learnt a few things from us as well. It was a great experience for him and for us to experience that together. We never would have thought we would be sitting here, both of us, playing the sport we love."
While it may seem like it now, things didn't always come easy for Jansen. He remembers "back at high school, especially, I didn't play nearly as well. I didn't even get picked for sides." Think about that and everything you've seen of him over the last few weeks and it may leave you at a loss for words too.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent