Proteas in Australia

Peterson must play in Perth

2012-11-25 14:57
Robin Peterson (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - In his last of six Test matches for South Africa thus far, well over four years ago, Robin Peterson a little ironically picked up a five-wicket haul.

It may “only” have been against minnows Bangladesh at Chittagong, in their second dig preceding an innings defeat, but bear in mind that like many batsmen on the Subcontinent, they tend to play spin more comfortably than they do pace and especially in their own backyard.

A five-for is also a desperately-sought landmark that continues to elude 11-cap Imran Tahir, the incumbent chief Proteas slow bowler who has also had one of the most ignominious matches possible with the ball in the second Test against Australia at Adelaide Oval.

Video: Australia v South Africa: Day 4 highlights

South Africa are clinging to survival by a relative thread, and very smart money to head to Perth for the decisive final Test 0-1 down in the series and having to win there to ensure ongoing occupation of the world No 1 ranking.

Whether they achieve a fifth-day Aussie shut-out miracle in Adelaide on Monday or not, their team will change for the WACA.

A formidable array of selection and “team balance” issues will have to be confronted by the tourists’ brains trust, especially as it seems highly likely that injured master all-rounder Jacques Kallis will not play at all, and is an outside chance of inclusion just as a batsman if it is believed he would also be able to field to a satisfactory enough level.

With the Proteas largely and worryingly on the back foot in this series, regardless of the result in the second Test, a strategic regroup will be required anyway.

Vernon Philander must come back into the side, his back problem supposedly well on the mend, and the sub-standard showings in Australia thus far by Jacques Rudolph and Tahir, in particular, need urgent debate.

Rudolph, who has got out four times in as many knocks to Nathan Lyon, may yet be saved by the non-availability of Kallis to add to the drawback of JP Duminy’s long-term injury mishap: there is not a surplus of proven, Test-calibre South African batsmen floating around Down Under and the closing Test starts as early as Friday.

The left-hander also has a slightly happier “history” in Perth than he does elsewhere in the country, once having saved a Test match there with a dogged second-innings century.

But Tahir? In short, he has to go.

The poor leg-spinner simply experienced too much scarring at the hands of ruthless Aussie batsmen to possibly justify retention.

Indeed, his hitherto already inconclusive Test career also hangs in the balance.

Statistics don’t lie, and in that regard Tahir has been an abject flop in supposedly spin-friendly Adelaide, and then some.

He earned the notoriety, via his game “haul” of 0/260 (23-0-180-0 and 14-1-80-0) of becoming the most expensive bowler in Test history without bagging a solitary wicket.

Just as significantly, this awful bruising saw his Test bowling average balloon from 40.19, going into Adelaide, to 50.19.

In a nutshell, he did a lamentable, attempted holding job in the Aussie first knock and just as ineffectual strike job under friendlier conditions for his trade in the second.

By all accounts, he is a popular member of the side and there are certainly some engaging aspects to his cricket personality. But these don’t pay the bills, do they?

Even the much-maligned Paul Harris, who also boasts a greatly better record at stopping up an end, has a bowling average of 37.87 from 37 Tests and his 103 scalps include an innings best of six for 127 - Tahir is yet to nail more than three scalps in one knock and he just does not trouble enough upper-order batsmen.

But Peterson is the second spinner on this tour and logic suggests he should play in Perth. At the very least, there would be every chance of him leaking runs far less damagingly, whilst he brings competent lower-order batting and sprightly fielding.

Increasingly regular and efficient exposure to limited-overs combat for South Africa also means that “Robbie P” is arguably a more resourceful and broader-skilled bowler now than when he played in that Chittagong Test.

Mark Nicholas, the neutral Channel 9 commentator, said on Sunday that he felt Peterson was a certainty for the WACA.

I might stop just short of being so sure, because there must be a chance the Proteas will go in, on the legendarily gung-ho strip for pacemen, with four seamers and rely on some slow bits and bobs from Faf du Plessis at times.

Then again, even four quickies could yet mean possible accommodation of Peterson at No 7: that is a little high for him with the blade, yes, but remember that South Africa’s primary quest is likely to be to do the 20 wickets job on the Baggy Greens, so they will need enough bowlers even if the batting looks a little dicey too at present.

Uncertainty currently swirls in the South African camp, even as they keep their eyes on the long-shot, match-saving needs of Adelaide.

 The only thing that is crystal clear, to my mind, is the unfortunate but very necessary sidelining of Tahir.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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