It’s easy to imagine Jan O Jorgensen snarling, running in quick, shattering stumps, and snarling once again – the white Dennis Lillee-like headband holding back the Jeff Thomson-like shoulder-length hair and several-word long verbal torrents.
But the current World No. 2 picked badminton over cricket in his teens, and that was that. Denmark’s half a dozen professionals in county cricket have all been pace bowlers, and Jan O would’ve fitted right in, except badminton would’ve missed out on one of the game’s biggest characters.
He can also hit the court with the temperament of a dogged opening batsman, and it’s his ability to put his head down and extract his best game on bad days that helped him beat Olympic champion Chen Long at the China Open, on the same day Sindhu picked her first Super Series title.
But Jan O believes he has a nice emotional connect with cricket, though he doesn’t play it as much now.
“It’s just a big part of my childhood, coming to the local stadium and playing cricket. Those were good trips. It’s kinda family thing as my dad played and my grand-dad played and it comes naturally,” he says, a day after he helped Delhi Acers eke out a tie win in the Premier Badminton League in Bangalore.
The family was pretty serious about cricket – Jan O making the u-13s. Though it’s his cousin living in New Zealand who took the dream further. Just a little.
“My cousin lives in New Zealand, and he tried to make it as a pro, but it didn’t work out. But now he works there as a physical coach and has a wife and all. But it’s always been a part of the family, and I like watching it on TV and often see India play,” he says. He knows a fair few Indians living in Denmark and playing in leagues there.
India’s not been a happy hunting ground this PBL season though, with the defending champs not cracking the code till late. And it was an Indian who ended his run at the Rio Olympics too – where Srikanth accounted for him.
“It was a big disappointment. I didn’t feel at any point that I got into any rhythm, and struggled all the way even though there were early easy wins,” he says.
But Jan O’s ‘ups and downs’ are legendary. This was the same player who exited the Olympics but surprised the world by winning the China Open.
“I have struggled really hard with injuries the last six months to a year. My hip is really not that good, so I need to be cautious and take care of my body, so I hadn’t had any practice before. There’ve been so many ups and downs, I did well in Japan, but not in Korea. French was horrible and I couldn’t move at all. So it was great to win the China Open beating an Olympic champion. It gave me a lot of belief that anything is possible even if I’m not that well prepared,” he says.
Known for his mercurial ways on court and the first of the fashionable man-buns earlier, Jan O sees it as just an extension of his emotional personality.
“I’m an emotional player and up and down is what you’re gonna get. That’s how you’ll see me. I’m just a human and I’m just acting myself on court. Sometimes I get angry, and I also do that outside the court! It’s very normal and I’m just a person like anyone else,” he says.
His shuttle fans have been Peter Gade, Lin Dan and Taufik Hidayat.
“I’m very honoured to have played and beaten them over such a long time,” he says. (He’s 2-2 with Taufik, 3-4 with Gade and 4-8 with Lin Dan, though those are 4 wins more than most others against the Chinese legend in his prime.)
He tips Japanese wunderkid Kento Momota and compatriot Viktor Axelsen as the stars going forward – “They’ve already achieved a lot!” he says, and also sees a bright future for Sameer Verma, who beat him in a near flawless match with eye-popping reaction times at Hong Kong.
There’s also Srikanth, who he sees as talented with a big game.
“There’s lots of hopes from Viktor when I retire in a few years and he’ll stay at the top. Me, I’m going to stay in the moment and play badminton for a while,” he laughs.
Till then, there’s his tattoos that he hates talking about, his music – the 60s kind with those legendary guitarists – which he doesn’t mind riffing over, and cricket which he doesn’t mind talking endlessly about.