Matured Peterson ready to adapt
When Robin Peterson wore what looked like a new Test cap during the team's final practice before the Perth Test, it was not a sign of anything. He had no knowledge he would receive a call-up the next day and had not been presented with new headgear already.
"I didn't have any other cap in my bag," he confessed. Unlike Australian players' affiliation to their first baggy green, Peterson had left his original Test cap at home and without a practice one had to make do with an alternative. It ended being the same cap he wore to appear in his seventh Test for South Africa, four years after last playing in whites.
Peterson has been in South Africa Test squads for the last two years, never with a hint that he would do anything other than carry drinks. With Paul Harris as the main spinner previously and Imran Tahir being turned to since Gary Kirsten took over, Peterson was always there as an emergency for something no-one could quite predict.
As neither an obvious Test bowler nor a frontline batsman, identifying where he could fit in was difficult. In Adelaide, Graeme Smith said Peterson did not come into the thinking at all for the starting XI, because Tahir was the "frontline spinner and we back him." It was a suggestion that hinted that for Peterson to play conditions would have to allow for two spinners or South Africa would have want a spinner who could do the more traditional holding job. They would also have to have enough batsmen for Peterson to play a lower middle-order role.
All of that seemed unlikely until Perth when it became clear that Tahir would have to do some soul-searching and form-finding and South Africa would need a containing bowler against an Australian line-up that could become rampant. Suddenly Peterson was "back in contention," according to Smith.
With that, Peterson's weeks of carrying drinks and hours operating as a net bowler came to an end. However, the first thing required him of him in Test cricket was to play a role with the bat. It is something Peterson has always been capable of but very seldom had the opportunity to demonstrate and he could not have asked for a more important situation than walking out at 6 for 75.
It allowed him the opportunity to prove the value of his experience, which spans over a decade in international cricket despite the limited number of his appearances, and his ability. With Faf du Plessis he put on 57 runs and ensured South Africa did not get skittled.
"We thought we had to somehow put the pressure back on Australia and that if we were able to transfer the pressure, we could take momentum with it," he said. Peterson played a cautiously important knock. Apart from an inside-edge to fine-leg, he concentrated on collecting runs quietly and found plenty in clips through the leg side.
His real test will come with the ball, though. It will not be about how spectacularly Peterson can do things but how sensibly. Foremost will be his ability to control the scoring rate and he knows that, although he would also relish the opportunity to be more attacking. "I'm going to have do a lot of the work into the wind and bowl as a tight as I can," he said. "But who knows? When the tailenders come in, with men around the bat, it might be my role to attack."
It means he will have to be flexible depending on the situation and what's different about the Peterson of 2012 to the one of 2008 is that he is now confident enough to do that. Since last year's World Cup, in which he finished as South Africa's leading wicket-taker, he has thrived in one-day cricket. Peterson has played in most of South Africa's limited-overs series and was picked over Johan Botha who has since relocated to Australia.
His recall to the Test XI, much like du Plessis' debut, was the natural progression from spending time with the squad and becoming a part of the team culture. "It has been nice to be part of the group because now guys understand you and how you go about your business," he said. "You create that trust. I feel that they trust me and I trust them and that's why I have success in the one-day game. Hopefully I can transfer that into the Test arena."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent