Harris pushes Robin Peterson's Test case
A frontline spinner is likely be included in South Africa's starting XI for the second Test against Australia next week after the dalliance with an all-pace attack proved unsuccessful in Brisbane. While Imran Tahir is the obvious choice, being the incumbent, former Test player Paul Harris had some other advice for the national selectors.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo before the series, Harris said he would "love to see Robin Peterson get a go in Test cricket". Peterson may always be remembered as the man Brian Lara took 28 runs off in a single over at the Wanderers in 2003, still the most expensive over in Test history, but he has made massive strides since then.
While Peterson has only played six Tests, his last more than four years ago against Bangladesh, he has become and ODI and T20 regular. He was South Africa's top wicket-taker at the 2011 World Cup and was preferred to Johan Botha in the home series which followed that summer. Botha has since relocated to Australia, which has created more opportunity for Peterson, and he has made the most of it. He also finished the August one-day series in England with the most scalps and has been involved in the past three touring Test squads.
"He has always been a good bowler and has had a chance to show that now," Harris said. "What I've been impressed with is the way he flights the ball, he is not scared at all." Having a more permanent place in the side is something that has helped Peterson shed the fear, according to both Peterson himself and Harris. "It's a massive thing to know you are backed," Harris said. And he would know.
Harris played 37 Tests for South Africa between 2007 and 2011, during which he was often criticised from the outside but praised from within for his ability to dry up an end. He formed an important part of South Africa's building to the No.1 ranking and was part of the squads that won in England and Australia in 2008. During Harris' time, South Africa did not lose a series on the road and although he was not given much credit for that run, he did have something to do with it.
"I knew I had a job to do and a lot of the time my job was to hold up an end," he said. "With the attack we had at the time, it wasn't part of my role to be attacking. And maybe it would have been nice at time to be able to be more aggressive and take wickets but that wasn't the strategy then and I was happy with that."
Harris thinks Peterson is in a position where he may be able to do both. "Robbie has got the ability to take wickets and we've seen that but he is also capable of doing the holding role," he said. "That is an important job too, even if it's not very glamorous."
The South African attack's inability to keep Ed Cowan, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey quiet during the Brisbane Test was proof that a so-called boring bowler is not surplus to requirements. Debutant Rory Kleinveldt and Graeme Smith both admitted that the unit did not bowl well "in partnerships," and even where one bowler strung a few quiet periods together, the others could not back him up.
Tahir could easily fall into that category too and has been expensive in the past. Harris believes the selectors should take note of Peterson's ability to be miserly. Peterson is also a competent lower-middle order batsman and, with South Africa having lost JP Duminy, may fit better into Andrew Hudson's preferred "like-for-like replacement" category than Dean Elgar, a top-order batsman who joined the squad yesterday.
Harris said it would also be novel to see both Peterson and Tahir in the same XI, as South Africa's attitude to spin has changed enough to accommodate two. Spin went from being a defensive must-have to a genuine attacking option when Tahir made his debut in November last against Australia. Tahir has played 10 Tests since, although his return has been a modest 26 wickets at an average of 40.19, but much has been invested in him.
Not since Paul Adams has South Africa had a wrist-spinner. Both captain Graeme Smith and coach Gary Kirsten have said they are excited by the option Tahir provides and have suggested they will continue to back him in future. So far, they have reneged on that twice, both times for tactical reasons.
An all-pace attack was fielded in Wellington in March this year when Jacques Kallis had a stiff neck overnight and South Africa had to make last-minute adjustments to their XI. In that match, Duminy made his comeback and bowled 10 overs and was due to perform a similar role in Brisbane. If Harris has his way, Peterson could take over in the near future.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent