South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 17, 2012

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • greig on November 19, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    I have to agree with JamesTHEwalldravid. SA selectors really dropped the ball by not playing Tahir in the First Test instead going for the OLD South Africa way of 4 front line seamers. Kleinveld was the worst bowling debutant ive seen and incredibly unfit - embarrasing. As a Saffa fan through and through, I have watched so many games (more in the past) where we played with this defensive outlook on Test cricket and I hated it. We have recently turned the corner and Tahir offers us that attacking variation. Lets not take a step backward and move forward. We just got a draw against Oz in Oz with 10 men and a brilliant clarke batting performance - that is an achievement in itself. Lets get the bowling combinations and diciplines right and go for the kill !!! Bring on Test 2.

  • Blaen on November 19, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    @JamesTHEwalldravid - very much agree with you. This is not a debate of Peterson vs Tahir. This is a debate about the Saffa team as a whole. Tahir represents the new attacking SA that I so much want us to be. Peterson and Harris represent the old safe, boring SA. There is nothing wrong with the old safe SA if you are happy with the status quo but I want this team to aspire to greatness hence we need to have an attacking mindset.

    @Proteas-13thman - that is a strong team. I suppose that strong emphasis would have to be placed on Robbie P's batting skills to make the tail wag. I would endorse that team for the sub-continent. I would first have to see Faf in action as a part time spinner before we could make judgement on fielding 3 spinners? And I do agree, Rudolph is proving surplus to requirement.

  • Andrew on November 19, 2012, 3:22 GMT

    @Proteas-13thman - that would be a team I would consider IF your mob lost the Gabba Test. I think the comfort zone would require 4 specialist bowlers + Kallis. So the question is Tahir or Peterson. In Oz - leg spin is historically the more effective. Oz have had 4 of the greatest spinners of all time & they were all Leggies (Warne, MacGill, Grimmett & O'Reilly), yet our best offies & you'd have to go to players like May, Mallet & Yardley (hell Nathan Lyon is not far off our best offie ever based on stats)! Ultimately though, I think Smith would be more comfortable with Peterson & I mean that purely on tactical reasons.

  • Satish on November 19, 2012, 2:48 GMT

    Can bat a bit too. Why not have Tahir as the main spinner and Robbie at 7? The no.7 slot now is a choice between Robbie, Faf and Tsolekile in my preference order. Somewhere down, i feel they might have done waway with Albie there in the squad.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2012, 20:01 GMT

    If tahir is not in Pak team that means he is not of international standard....South Africa are making a huge mistake with tahir, they should concentrate on their strength.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2012, 16:33 GMT

    Dear SA Cricket Fans,, I am a Srilankan and really interested in current "Momentum One Day Cup" serious. And also i love to Cricket South Africa too. I believe giving some chance to left-arm spinner " AM Phangiso" would be strengthen the SA Balling attack.

  • ntokozo on November 18, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    @Proteas-13thman, I totally agree with that line-up, especially considering the Adelaide pitch. Bring the 2nd test on!

  • James on November 18, 2012, 10:21 GMT

    After reading all of these comments it is clear that South Africa do not deserve an attacking legspinner such as Tahir. In fact they do not deserve to be number 1 anymore. I have supported them and their rise to number 1 in the world, but now all I see is a very defensive and scared team, who just want to play safe and never take any risks. The Saffers of old have returned, filled with talent and potential, but lacking the killer instinct (excuse the term) to push on and dominate. South Africa were lucky enough to find a good legspinner, who although still has a lot to prove offered them a chance not just to change their team composition, but also their mindset. Alas it seems that will not happen. I started this series excited and fully supporting the Saffers and now I'm wondering if I should support the aussies instead. At least as Clarke showed in the last test that they try to play positively and go for the win. AB as Keeper is also defensive btw. Why do you need 7 specialist bats?

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 19:33 GMT

    If Tahir is not going to take wickets and going to be expensive, might as well throw the ball to Peterson - at least if he doesn't take wickets he will dry up an end. And he BATS! Elgar is a good replacement, but Faf deserves his chance (there's your leggie option should one be needed).

  • Gregory on November 17, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    I have always been a Robbie Peterson fan. He has really developed as a cricketer especially with the bat, which is what I think really sets him apart from Tahir. I wish I could have seen the two of them in warm ups to know who was more dangerous on pace-welcome Aussie pitches. The quota argument posed by Shongololo below is erroneous. Cricket in SA is developing to a point where the quotas don't play a massive role anymore, particularly with bowlers. Botha's stint with S. Australia now is not helping any re-selection hopes. On Dean Elgar, he isn't a good choice either. In England he was a mediocre all-rounder at best. Kleinveldt was not mentally prepared for Test cricket. They should have started him against a weaker team to build confidence. In my opinion, Tsolekile should replace Rudolph giving AB a rest, Kleinveldt out for Peterson/Tahir (that's a given), and since they seem heartset, Elgar in for Duminy. Phangiso should be groomed 4 national selection with an ODI callup.

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