Strong and passionate, Jonassen won’t ‘leave it at that’

“It is a little bit offensive. What’s T20 cricket for then?” Jess Jonassen says it as it is. A career in law might have taken a back seat to cricket for now, but speaking up for the things that matter isn’t a post-retirement plan.

Waqar Younis’s comments about a 30-over World Cup for the women, his ‘no offence meant’ rider notwithstanding, haven’t gone down well. “It’s quite interesting that he said it the day after our match against Sri Lanka, (which) was one of the highest scoring games of the World Cup, 500-odd runs scored and two of the best innings in the women’s game, ever,” Jonassen told a reporter. “Maybe a little bit misguided, we’ll just leave it at that.”

There are a lot of subjects Jonassen isn’t willing to just leave at that. The fight for marriage equality in Australia, for instance; mental health issues among sportspersons; the pay dispute.

“If I see something that I’m passionate about, then I’m generally going to comment about it, but not in a ridiculous way or a silly way. If there’s something I believe in, something I stand for, 100% I’ll speak about it. A massive one for me at the moment is marriage equality and same sex marriage,” she tells Wisden India.

“Being in a same sex relationship and not being able to have that as an option. And I guess, too, one of my closest friends on the team was recently engaged, and knowing they can’t have a marriage recognised in our own country…”

Margaret Court was entitled to her opinions – the most recent comments from the tennis legend have resulted in calls for the Australian Open venue to be renamed and several sportspersons speaking out – but, adds Jonassen, “I just don’t understand how what I do with my life or what someone does, who they choose to love and be loved by, how that affects or impacts anybody else.”

It’s heartening that Jonassen doesn’t hesitate to use the platform given to her to speak her mind. It is something women’s cricket, especially in Australia, has been good at doing.

A chat with the confident 24-year-old then reveals that this strong, passionately held sense of responsibility is something she extends to her game as well.

A left-arm spinner, she’s been crucial to the Australian attack as the highest wicket-taker of the ICC Women’s Championship with 31 scalps from 21 matches, and grown in strength and confidence since her debut in January 2012. When injuries to their new-ball bowlers last year forced a rejig of the bowling, she embraced the challenge of opening. She and her captain – Meg Lanning – share a strong sense of trust, which has seen the cementing of the ‘spin it to win it’ strategy – and resulted in some friendly banter and oneupmanship with Megan Schutt, the pacer, whom she tends to share the new ball with.

On game day, she’ll put on her Spotify playlist, kick around a football with some team-mates, and ready herself for whatever the team asks of her. “It’s a pretty important role if you’re taking the very first over of the game. It really sets the tone for the innings. I take a lot of pride in that and try to do the best that I can. Over the last little while, it’s paid off,” she says.

The biggest technical adjustment this has needed, especially after knee issues last year, is in trying to add more power. “I try to get a little bit more energy through the crease, a bit more speed on the ball. (It) just allows me to change my pace both up and down, rather than being stuck at a slow pace where there’s only one way you can go.”

Having said that, Jonassen is after an approach that is economical rather than attacking. “The less I’m thinking of taking wickets, the better it is for me. I’m quite comfortable to be in a role where I bowl as many dot balls as I can and wickets fall down the other end.”

It is to Australia’s fortune that those wickets have come frequently, and when it has mattered. If it’s not Jonassen, it’s Kristen Beams and Amanda-Jade Wellington, the legspinners, or Ashleigh Gardner, the offspinner, who are bothering batters with pace off the ball, and competing with one another for spots in the XI.

“With Kristen Beams, we seem to feed off each other and really bowl in that partnership, and that really puts the pressure back on the opposition. A lot of time we get through our overs quite quickly so that puts them on the back foot quite a bit. They look up at the scoreboard and the next minute ten overs are gone,” points out Jonassen.

Jonassen, who’s been in top-flight cricket for five years now, is setting herself up to take on more responsibility in the side not only by offering leadership to the bowling group, but also with the bat. On Test debut, she made 99, and has batted up the order in domestic games.

“I can bring versatility. I can be in any position the coach or the team needs,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of work recently on how we finish innings in the 50-over format … It’s backing your ability. It doesn’t matter what the number is next to your name, you go out there and the object is still the same, to score runs.”

Jonassen is also embracing the idea of being a role model beyond the field. She too was inspired by the team’s meeting with their country’s legends before travelling to England. She personally looks up to Shelley Nitschke, a fellow Australian left-arm spinner.

“It was very inspiring,” she says of the chance to interact with former World Cup winners. “You see and you hear the stories of what they went through. It just makes you realise how lucky we are to be able to have the support we do and play on the grounds we do, and with the facilities. To just hear the passion in their voice and how much they like representing their country and love seeing young women and girls doing the same thing and then be able to create an actual career out of it, something that’s financially viable now.”

Jonassen herself may yet put her law degree to use. She’s thinking of getting in some work placement after a busy season. But, only for now, with the World Cup at stake and title rivals England up next on Sunday, there are cudgels to be taken up.

This article first appeared in Wisden India.

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