New Zealand in SA
Peterson: Happy homecoming?
Robin Peterson (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - It has taken some time, considering that he is no young buck at 33, but Robin Peterson is arguably negotiating the most satisfying period of his career as an international cricketer right now.
The start of 2013 sees him in the comforting position of being a reasonably settled presence in all three formats for the Proteas, which is not a situation he has ever previously been able to boast despite a combined tally of 87 appearances for his country spanning more than 10 years.
Whilst his one-day skills have long and ever more increasingly been valued, Test caps have been significantly harder to come by - he spent several seasons in the shadow of predominantly containing spinners like Nicky Boje and Paul Harris, and more recently was also suppressed by the so-so experiment with attacking leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
Peterson, who probably (and conveniently at this juncture?) falls somewhere in between for primary characteristics, had to rely on the infamous misfortune of Tahir against Australia in Adelaide - nought for 260 - for his break back into the Test frame, but he has also been showing at least some healthy signs of “ownership” of the No 1 spin berth of late.
Friday’s second Test against New Zealand at St George’s Park will not only be the first time ever that Peterson plays three Test matches on the trot, but also handily represent a homecoming of sorts: the genial left-arm spinner and useful lower-order batsman hails from Port Elizabeth.
It is still the environment he is presumably most accustomed to, considering that he only switched to new domestic pastures, in the shape of the Cape Cobras, in 2009, and even then it was a decision based mostly around his partner’s career path.
And you can almost bank with 100 percent certainty the prospect that he will play (at Test level for the first time) at his old home venue: the surface in the Friendly City is going to have to be a greentop of wholly unexpected, freakish proportions for the specialist spinner to be omitted.
A far stronger likelihood is that Peterson will instead have a much more industrious role to play bowling-wise than at Newlands, where he sent down just 16 overs and all in the Black Caps’ second innings after not being required in the pathetic, short-lived first.
But it was enough time for him to more or less emulate the level of competence he had shown in the decisive final Test against the Aussies at Perth - the scalp of captain Brendon McCullum, shortly after he had reached a half-century, confirmed a burgeoning reputation for Peterson winkling out big-name players.
If anything, Peterson was a trifle unlucky not to add further to his wickets column.
While not turning the ball to any violent degree (it was not that type of pitch for the mere three days it lasted) he exhibited his wily pace and flight variations and was often close to lbw decisions against Kiwi right-handers, in particular.
The potentially slow and low St George’s Park, which is also not averse to the presence of testing breezes, to use a possible understatement, may well offer the locally-raised customer even better opportunities to show off his subtleties ... and thus further cement his status as first-choice in the slow-bowling department.
It will also not have escaped this thinking cricketer’s notice that Tahir has responded to his axing in the best possible fashion - earning 12 wickets and player-of-the-match status for the Lions in their just-completed Sunfoil Series encounter with the Dolphins at Kingsmead.
As much as he was a handful from an attacking point of view, his economy was exemplary, which will have pleased no end those in the Proteas camp who believe he could yet add to his 11 Test caps if he can erase that tendency to toss up too many full-tosses and long-hops.
While the jury is rightly still out on Knights top-order batsman Dean Elgar’s suitability to a place around the No 6 or seven area in the order, he may well, like Peterson, earn a third Test cap in succession.
That is because his own, relatively part-time left-arm spin could come in useful as a supplementary device to Peterson’s main fare, especially if the pitch shows crumbling signs towards the back end of the contest.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing