When I caught up with Jersey cricketer Jonty Jenner it was clear he was still as down to earth as ever, and understandably upbeat considering the continued early successes in his career.
We talked about how it all began, his experience playing for Jersey, Sussex and even England, and finished off by talking about his aims for the future.
I began by asking Jenner if he had always played Cricket, to which he replied ‘From when I was growing up. My dad always played cricket. We used to go down St Brelades Bay a lot, but it wasn’t just batting, my dad used to throw the ball up as far as he could for me to catch on the soft sand, so different types of catches, or I was in the sea and he’d bat the ball for me to catch, diving around in the sea. It was always the culture of the family, being sporty and on the beach as often as possible.’
After starting playing cricket early on, Jenner was already at a good level compared to others his age, so when did he think he would become a professional? ‘You always think about it in your head, when I went to Lords to watch England with my dad, I thought wow! I want to be out there, in the middle, playing. The first time I thought ‘I’ve got a chance here’ was when I was twelve. We went over to Sussex for a tournament with Jersey Cricket and I did quite well against kids in the year above in England, ending up being the highest run scorer of the tournament and won a couple of awards. I thought then I might actually be closer than I think I am. Being in Jersey it’s a bit of a bubble and you never really know what’s going on, so it was nice to get out of Jersey. You sink or you swim, and luckily I swam.’
Everyone has played cricket, and usually people have a favourite position, either batting, fielding, bowling or wicket keeping, so I asked which he preferred and also whether he misses any of the other sports he played. Jenner answered ‘It’s always really been batting and fielding. When I was younger I used to bowl a bit, but you did a bit of everything then, including wicket keeping. I wasn’t ‘pigeon holed’ into one sport though. Growing up at Victoria College, I played hockey which was good for hand-eye co-ordination. I tried rugby, which was a bit too much for a ‘pretty boy’ like me, and I played a fair bit of football. I played a lot against you with the Victoria College vs De La Salle rivalry, and I really enjoyed my football. Even when I went to school in England, I still carried on playing football. But in terms of cricket now, it’s more batting and fielding, even if I do still bowl a little bit.
Jonty played at Lords for the first time at the young age of just 17. On this experience he stated ‘It was really strange. Through my fielding attributes I ended up being with Sussex, and they asked me to come up to Lords. I said yes in a heartbeat. They have had, and still do have, great players who are in and around the England set up, so of course I would want to. For me, I knew my best suit in Cricket was my fielding, so I felt at home and wasn’t too nervous about it. I had full confidence in my fielding ability to do myself justice at Lords. It was quality to go and field on the ground where I had a lot of memories of watching cricket with my mum and dad, when I was growing up.’
Jenner, who we have learnt has a close bond with his family, moved to England to pursue his career. Jenner said ‘It was always going to be difficult, as my parents, grandparents and sister have always been here (Jersey). We are a really close family, having Sunday dinners together, and a lot of the talk around the table would be about cricket. However, over the past few weeks I have been reflecting a lot and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve done’. He continued ‘As we speak, I am currently back in Jersey and you can see that so many people are in their comfort zones. I could have easily stayed in Jersey, played league cricket and done alright, but I wouldn’t have half as much confidence as I have at the moment. I’ve rubbed shoulders with some wonderful people, been the 12th man for England and Sussex’s 12th man too, if I had stayed in Jersey I wouldn’t have had those opportunities. It’s been a great couple of years, and when I look back I think it was 100% worth it.’
The Jerseyman impressively scored a Half Century on his first class debut for Sussex, and when asked what it was like to have that impact straight away Jenner is quoted as saying ‘That was brilliant. We played against South Africa A, so with those tourist matches people don’t really think it’s a first class game. But in my mind, after getting the county tie and cap, and being presented as the 741st player to play for Sussex, that was the time where I thought ‘this is real’. It was special, even if people were trying to play it down. To go out there and score 65, or however many I scored, it was a ‘peace of mind’ thing. This is because even though people outside sport, looking in, think to themselves it must be fun being professional, it can be a really difficult place to be. It was good because there was a big crowd, there were cameras, and for them to think that you could make it, then it gives you belief.’
He then when on to win the coveted Channel Island Sports Personality of the Year award in 2015. I asked him how all the hype around that was and how it felt to win the biggest award in Channel Island sport. Jenner responded ‘That was a really nice evening. Jersey and Channel Island sport is really close to my heart, so for Jersey to recognise me for doing well, it gave me the confidence that everybody was behind me and they really wanted me to succeed. The fact that I had to do media coverage was difficult, but I knew if did anything wrong they could edit it out. The actual night I remember being so nervous, I knew it was live on TV and that if I made any mistakes it wasn’t going to reflect well on me, but I don’t think I did too badly. To be nominated for the award was an honour, but to win it was unbelievable.’
Jonty was the fourth highest run scorer in the T20 qualifiers, almost leading Jersey to the World Cup. Again, I asked him how this experience was. He said ‘That was a crazy few weeks. I was only 17, but there was still quite a lot of expectation on my shoulders. It’s the first time we had the ICC and journalists on our backs and that made it quite difficult. I tried to stay away from it as much as I could, in the hotel room. Everyday I would sit on the bus and think in my head, if I make 60 or 70 we have a real chance of qualifying for the World Cup. That’s the ultimate goal for Jersey, and we have just qualified for another tournament so we can go for it again. I love the fact I could have such an influence on Jersey potentially competing on the world stage. Having Sky Sports there too is strange. It could affect you one of two ways. You could freeze or you could zone them out and do what you do on the field. I was lucky enough to thrive under those conditions. It was an unbelievable four weeks, it was just a shame we didn’t quite make it’.
Jenner’s cricket career then went on to a new level when he was called to be 12th man for England. On that magical day, he stated ‘It was pretty tiring to be fair (he says laughing). I received a phone call on the Tuesday saying that ‘you’re going to be twelfth man for England’ and I thought it was some sort of joke. I rang my dad straight away, and he’s a member at Lords so he always gets tickets, so I said to him ‘I think you might see me there, the England assistant coach just called me saying I am going to be the first one on the field if someone there is an injury’ and he didn’t really know what to do. All my family came over, my girlfriend too, it was a brilliant few days’. He continued ‘I didn’t know what to expect walking into Lords that first day, we just went out and did some fielding practice and I loved it. To be out there and rubbing shoulders with players you have looked up to and watched on TV, it was brilliant. I managed to get on for ten overs or so and I was nervous for a while, but it’s interesting how quickly you settle in, because for me, as I have played so much cricket, I had full belief in my ability; if someone smacks the ball as hard as they can, even if they are the best player in the world, I am pretty sure I can stop it. One of the experiences that I will never forget. Great day for me and the family, and also the Jersey community, seeing the support I received. It made me feel that this is where I want to be’.
Finally, on his future, Jenner concluded ‘I am off to Kenya next week for a two week tour, and then off to Melbourne for the winter, playing cricket out there til March. Basically I want to impress wherever I go and then you never really know where you could end up. You’re never too far away from where you think you are. Things can change so quickly, I could be making coffees this time next year rather than playing my cricket, you just can’t predict the future’.
A very open and interesting insight into Jenner’s career to date. He has had an amazing, very successful few years and I am keen to see where the future takes this humble, down to earth Jerseyman. It was a pleasure to catch up with Jonty.