When the news came that he was born at a healthy 4.1 kilograms, we jumped for joy. Growing up, he had to start off his backyard playing career by taking cover behind a big tree in our backyard. He soon got the go-ahead from our insanely knowledgeable mother (about cricket and everything else) that he had outgrown the protection of the bark and was able to now fully compete in Suiderkruis Street 64's sanctioned cricket games. Our youthful and loving father was the groundsman, umpire, first change bowler and sponsor.
Janneman, barely 5 or so, bravely and enthusiastically strutted to the stumps when it was his turn to bat. Barely being able to look over his pads, he confidently asked for middle. Sooner rather than later the only middle at play was that of whichever cricket bat he was holding in his hands.
Those were the years of growing up but then in January 2015, one of the players got injured during the 2015 Varsity Cup tournament and Janneman went on to score 99 in the semi-finals. A sexy fifty, as our humorous father so loved to say.
He not only progressed in his cricket career at an impressive pace but while pursuing the dreams and aspirations he must have held in his heart behind that tree in Nelspruit, he also completed a university degree. Having to balance hostel life, which is a cosmos of chaos of its own, studies, and a cricket career that will always have peaks and valleys takes a bit of bottle. Bottle he has.
Having already made the move from Nelspruit to Pretoria as a mere 11-year-old, and then from Pretoria to Potchefstroom as a testosterone fuelled 18-year-old, he went even further and bolder by packing his bags again to leave for Cape Town as a 22-year-old. Always evolving, learning, adapting and aiming higher. Never in stasis.
He made his international debut in the shortest format the day after being the best man and MC at myself and my wife's wedding. The self-discipline to just keep his liquid intake to coffee and red bull was quite a feat in itself. To prepare him for the onslaught of the Pakistani bowling attack, we hastily had an impromptu net session on the patio of our overnight accommodation. A lawn chair, his Kookaburra bat, a tennis ball with some tape to emulate swing and four umbrellas that counted as fielders were the crucial pieces of equipment used. The field placement was not something to write home about, if we have to be brutally honest.
Fast forward another 13 or so months and Janneman was set to take on the triad of terror in his 50-over debut for the Proteas: Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. All ready and rumbling to stop the boy wonder from the Lowveld. With Janneman opening the batting and the heat opening pores wherever it went, Mitchell Starc ran in to deliver the White Snitch.
Janneman broke a world record on his ODI debut. [He was out to the first ball of the match]
Valley. Death Valley.
With 100 hours to replay that singular event in his mind, he was silently yet furiously fighting the good fight. But what do you do? The only thing you can do when you are in the valley. The only thing you must do. Look up. Look within. And get up.
Here is where the special ones live. On that razor thin line between order and chaos. Where they have to contend with the dragon of chaos that hoards the gold. When they are at the entrance at the point of the forest that looks darkest to them and the holy grail is somewhere within the castle, they are yet able to find it or lay eyes on it. When they peer over the edge into the abyss and all the abyss allows them to see is past failure and future catastrophe.
On March 4, 2020, Janneman Malan contended, competed and slayed the dragon. He became the first man in history to rise from death valley and lift himself onto the ultimate peak. Another world record. For everyone else it was the first time they witnessed this. But not for him.
He played the moment in his mind so many times, he was so prepared, he did not have to think about it. He knew exactly what to do. He visited that moment, regardless of the potential for excruciating pain if it only ended up confined in his mind.
But as in all tales, the dragon that was defeated today will be replaced by a different one. A bigger, stronger and more dangerous one. In the game of cricket, you start in the valley as soon as that moment has passed. You are forever placed back at that entrance to the forest that looks darkest to you. The dragon has to be slayed again. And again.
So, every day keep on looking up. Keep on looking in. And keep on getting up. No matter what.
For a good part of 200 minutes, Janneman showed the mental fortitude of someone much his senior, the physical application of someone much more experienced and the hunger of someone that has not consumed anything to nourish his aching body and soul for some 100 hours. But when you have lived that moment since the time you could form coherent thoughts, it must have felt familiar. As if the dream and obsession he had ever since I have known him, has only revealed itself in the real world at this very moment.
Bloemfontein, you beauty.
Andre Malan is the second of the three Malan brothers. His older sibling Pieter made his Test debut this summer against England and his youngest, Janneman scored a century against Australia on Wednesday night. Andre is a senior player for the Western Province provincial side.