EXCLUSIVE – Marco Jansen will go a long way to making South Africa a successful Test team: Robin Petersen

When a young player causes a stir at international level, as Marco Jansen did in the Test series against India, collecting 19 wickets at an average of 16.47 and a strike rate of 32.6, one less that the leader Kagiso Rabada, there are usually many coaches raise their hands to claim that they produced this player.

In Jansen’s case, the man who played a crucial role in his transformation from exciting young talent to Test performer was Robin Petersen, the former South African all-around spin bowler. In this conversation, Peterson, who is the Warriors national team coach who signed Jansen, reveals the Indian connection in Jansen’s journey.

You have already played a major role in Jansen’s career. Tell us how it went.

I worked as a consultant for the South African Under-19 team and we toured India. Curiously, Rahul Dravid was the coach of the India U19 team. He was also involved with Rajasthan. I was walking around the pitch and Rahul was talking about Marco and how impressed he was with Marco.

When I took on the Warriors coaching job in Port Elizabeth I needed to make some signings and seeing where the team was at I felt we needed bowlers. It was a bit tricky because Marco was injured and he hardly played. There was a genetic problem with platelets and bone structure. We took a bit of a risk to bring it to PE. We had great physical trainers and they came up with a rehab plan to get him into the park. The first goal was to get him to stay on the park, we weren’t too worried about what he delivered. The first part of the journey was letting him play. In the second season, we tried to improve his game, in terms of skills and mindset.

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His physical attributes are there for all to see. But what was it about him beyond that that caught your eye?

First of all the physical attributes. He is two meters tall and throws the ball at the height. What caught my attention was its precision. He could hold his pace for a long time. What was also impressive was how he could play with the old ball. Often you will find that young children can play well with the new ball, but they don’t really know what to do once the ball gets a little soft. With his discipline and what he did with the old ball, he was miles ahead in terms of maturity. It stood out. The more I got to know him, the more I realized he had a lot of heart and a lot of fighting in him. When the going gets tough, he usually gets up. The mentality is that of a winner. He is competitive.

You must have watched him closely when he got his chance in the Test series…

I watched her first over. I was sitting with a few people who know cricket and they were a bit concerned about his selection. I told them to relax. He knows what he’s doing. He’s looking for his momentum and in that he’s had a few full throws. I wasn’t too bothered by what I saw. I knew it had a repeatable action. It was a matter of settling in and doing some deliveries. That’s exactly what happened in the Test series and pretty quickly he became one of the captain’s go-to bowlers. It was awesome to watch.

South Africa tried a few left-arm options. But no one since Brett Schultz has really been able to consistently deliver at Test level since Jansen…

South Africa have tried a few guys but, in terms of Test match quality, Marco is probably the best we’ve had since Brett. He swings it, he’s big and in South African conditions he’s always going to have that extra bounce and challenge the outside edge. On top of that, he is accurate and I think he will go a long way in making South Africa a successful Test team. And he can hit. So when you look at combinations in white ball cricket, all of a sudden Marco opens up completely different options for the team.

How important is it to carefully manage young talents like Jansen? Not just physically, but in terms of mentorship?

Marco is quite mature. He understands himself and where he is mentally. Since I have been with him, we have always had clear communication. He might pull me aside and say ‘coach, I’m tired, I just got out of a bubble. I need a break, ‘We would get there because he has an exceptional talent. You have to listen to the players and listen to what their body is telling them. He knows how to prepare. He learned very quickly how to turn professional. He knows how to behave on the pitch and off the pitch. It’s important to manage him, but it’s also important to allow him to make mistakes. It is not the finished article. He has to make mistakes, can lose games here and there, but he learns fast. If he can stay fit and be hungry, I’m sure he can be one of our mainstays.

You seem to think Jansen is a well-adjusted, sorted cricketer…

Because he learns very quickly, you don’t need to coach him much. If he makes a mistake, he recovers quickly. You’re just trying to get what he’s thinking. His cricket IQ is very good. He is someone who thinks about his game, not just a child who runs and plays bowling. When he comes off the pitch, he’ll have conversations about what he’s trying to do. He is very confident for a young boy. You allow players like this to manage themselves and just a few ideas here and there.

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I know you worked with him going around the counters and adding that little extra to his game. Tell us about that.

He was not comfortable bowling around the wickets. In the first game he played with us, he circled the wicket at Bloemfontein and took three wickets. We had to explain to him that sometimes the ball won’t come back into the stumps. You need to bring in more redundancies around the counters if it’s flat. With the angle, he was able to bring lbw and bowling into play, and the fact that he was able to execute that quickly in a game was a bonus. It was great to see him do that in Tests, go around the wickets and try to hit the cracks and get the ball back into the right batsmen. These are skills he has learned over the past 12 months. Taking this in a test match and succeeding shows you how quickly he picks things up and puts them into practice.

One of the things the Indian batsmen knew they had to do well in South African conditions was to leave the ball well. Jansen’s left arm angle made that even harder to do…

If you look at the Test series, there was a crack outside the stump at both Wanderers and Newlands. So by going around the wickets, with that angle, you’re already in the batsman’s mind. With Marco, he has the ability to straighten the ball. He took six wickets in a first class match before being selected for the Test series and five of those came from the wickets. On a green wicket that did a little, he challenged the outside edge and the inside edge. When you face someone rounding the wicket over two meters high, at over 140 km/h with a short leg and a leg gully in place, it will never be comfortable for a batsman.

What now for Jansen? What are the things he needs to work on?

He will always learn strategy and bowling in different conditions. Conditions were good for bowlers in this series, but I’ve seen Marco enough to know he can bowl in any condition, even if it’s flat. In terms of learning, he is on the right track with his bowling. With his stick, I think it’s a matter of him having a bit more confidence in his own game. When that starts, he’ll be playing some sets for South Africa that will get some attention. He hasn’t finished the article with the bat yet, but he’s working very hard on it. He has played wonderful innings for us in first-class cricket where he has just taken the game away from lower-order opposition. When we beat the Titans at Centurion, he came in and broke 60-70 and turned it around. For me, he is best when he hits aggressively. Once that starts, he will be in high demand as a cricketer.

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