South Africa in Australia 2012-13 December 4, 2012

Du Plessis, Peterson among South Africa's huge gains


Apart from the No.1 ranking, and the knowledge that they are the first team in nearly two decades to win Test series in Australia twice, South Africa have more to take away from their 1-0 victory.

They will take the recognition of Graeme Smith as one the great leaders of his time, the ever-growing appreciation for Jacques Kallis, the quiet quality of Hashim Amla's contribution and the more brash ones of Dale Steyn. However, the most precious thing they will take is the birth of a new Test player and the rebirth of an old one.

Faf du Plessis and Robin Peterson underlined what really gives a team the ability to dominate: a continuum. Both have been members of South Africa's squads across all formats and when the time came for them to step up in a Test situation, they did.

In du Plessis, South Africa have a reader of the game that will serve them better than a kindle does a frequent traveller. In Peterson, they have a blend of experience and exuberance, which helped deepen his understanding of his role and how it can fit the needs of the team.

Du Plessis succeeded because he is able to see opportunity and take it. He learnt that in an unlikely place: the IPL. At Chennai Super Kings, he was acquired as bench strength and had to challenge Michael Hussey for a place in the starting XI. When Hussey was unavailable for part of a season, du Plessis saw a small chance and snatched it. "Competition is great for the team," he said. "I grew a lot from the experience of competing with Hussey and I learnt to make sure that when I get the chance to score runs, I do."

The situation on the fourth day of the Adelaide Test was not what most would call an opening. With a rampant Australian attack on the prowl for six wickets to take an unassailable lead in the series, du Plessis' best hope, to those on the outside, was to try and survive. Not much more could have been expected from a rookie, especially after he had already done his bit in the first innings, but du Plessis wanted to be more than a sacrificial lamb.

"I've really pushed the ceiling in four-day cricket over the last two years and I really enjoy trying to score hundreds," he said. Du Plessis transferred his domestic form to Tests effortlessly and displayed a maturity of someone who had played 78 first-class games before making a debut.

After his resistance in Adelaide, du Plessis understood the extent of the psychological dent he had caused in the opposition camp. "For us, just to hang on was important," he said. "Afterwards, the whole team had the sense that the Australians threw everything at us and we still managed to hang on. We knew that to turn around, mentally and physically, after that would be tough for them."

It's those two aspects of Test cricket that du Plessis enjoys most. The game is played in the mind as much as it is on the field. "After five days, you feel like you have run the Comrades Marathon. I love it."

Peterson also regards Test cricket as the "purest" form of the game, although he did not think he would ever play it again. After appearing four times for South Africa, his only mark on the format was being hit for 28 runs in an over by Brian Lara. Now, he can joke about that. "It always comes up but really, it was just the way I bowl. I kept tossing it up and I felt I was in with a chance. There's no disgrace in being tonked by Brian Lara."

Peterson's style of bowling was never considered good enough for South Africa over a sustained period, and he is now the perfect advertisement for recycling. With the amount of time he spent on the fringes, he could easily have been forgotten. Peterson had only played 40 ODIs in nine years before the 2011 World Cup, when he was finally given more than just a smattering of matches.

With a little bit of backing, Petersen finished as the leading wicket-taker for South Africa at the World Cup and that, along with his stint at Derbyshire, helped his confidence. "With county cricket, you learned to play cricket week in and week out and having to get yourself up mentally to perform all the time." Dismissing players like Mark Ramprakash and Younis Khan helped Peterson realise he could do it without changing his fundamentals.

It took a little longer than that for South African cricket to warm to him. Peterson said he felt like he needed to be someone he wasn't, but that changed after the World Cup. "I'm being myself more now. The skill level never changed but it's more about being comfortable with who you are as a person. It comes with maturity and growing up."

Peterson's development is a microcosm for what has happened with the whole South African side. Ricky Ponting noted it when he said they were "not scared" to pull the rug so far from under Australia's feet that it caused them to fall over. That may sound like an obvious thing for a sporting unit to do but it is not. Sometimes they hold back from annihilating an opponent as completely as they can.

South Africa are slowly shedding that tendency. Peterson has been part of the squad for long enough to have witnessed it firsthand. "We're a lot smarter and lot more prepared to take risks, which we wouldn't have been in the past," he said. "It comes with maturity as people. If you look around, Hashim is playing the best he has ever played, Graeme has also gone to a new level, and guys like Faf are coming in and performing under pressure."

It's the last of those examples that matters most. A good team can be built on a few exceptional players but great teams have to be built on generations. South Africa's may be beginning.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sifiso on December 5, 2012, 12:39 GMT

    Robbie P. has really come along way as cricketer and it's such a delight to see him this confident in his skill and looking at how Tahir has gone I think he'll SA's frontline spinner for a while.

    Another big positive for SA is how Faf has mentally prepared himself for test cricket even before his debut and it showed in the 2 games he's played. I cannot wait for JP to come back so the batting line-up reads, Smith, Petersen, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Du Plessis... I can confidently say this is the best batting line for SA and arguably the best in test cricket at the moment.

  • Alexander on December 4, 2012, 23:08 GMT

    @TommytuckySaffa - Agreed Mate, that team line up is perhaps the most rounded of all teams currently. It posesses everything. Decent Openers, the best first drop, the Best Batting All rounder (Kallis), The best Keeper-Batsman, two pure talents in the middle order (JP and Faf) and a tail who compliment each other in attack and can wag if required.

    Only perhaps England are as blessed until Aust can sort out their top 3, and get a durable pace attack.

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2012, 22:16 GMT

    I agree with TommytuckerSaffa's selections. Of course depending on the pitch, a fit Marchant de Lange could be inserted in place of R Peterson. JP would then be the spin option

  • Ivan on December 4, 2012, 18:24 GMT

    Continued......... There is a young man from the Western Cape, Stiaan van Zyl, who to my eyes is an extremely promising batsman but I wonder whether he is getting the proper nurturing. I follow cricket quite closely but until I saw him recently I had never heard of him. Why? There is a hugely talented 19yo, Quinton de Kock, who keeps wicket and is a delight to watch when batting. I get the impression that the Highveld Lions are doing their best to keep his feet on the ground and in recent games he is already showing some maturity. He seems to be trying to build an innings now instead of trying to hit every ball to the boundary. Neil McKenzie and Alviro Peterson seem to have him under their wing. If you watch domestic cricket every team seems to possess at least two spinners. I refuse to believe that at least two of them cannot be elevated to Test level with proper help. Is it forthcoming? I don't know. All in all, I think the future looks quite promising.

  • waseem on December 4, 2012, 16:19 GMT

    "In du Plessis, South Africa have a reader of the game that will serve them better than a kindle does a frequent traveller. " wow.. that writing is a thing of beauty..amazing..

    On SA finds, its no doubt a great team though need to find a good keeper like Boucher .. AB is kind of makeshift arrangement and its affecting his batting..AB the batsmen is far better than AB the keeper..

  • Lloyd on December 4, 2012, 15:54 GMT

    Not bad #tommytucker but Petersen is not a quality spinner, he did well in this game but also got whacked by the last two batsmen- he went for over 120 runs.Alviro is also an unsettled opener which they need to sort out. King Kallis is almost retired now so Elgar needs to be included to prove his worth to take over.So there are 2 definite spots still up for grabs, JP back may fill in one birth......

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2012, 15:44 GMT

    Spin has never had the pickings of world class calibre because simply put conditions out here don't tailor for it, what we have is smart spinners and adaptive without being game to game match winners. The question is, do we need a match winner or do we need tweek options that are able to adapt and contain. I was a fan of the work Paul Harris did for so long, a career 2 RPO ER and over 100 sticks is not a bad return for a man criticised for not being a match winner, he didnt need to be with Steyn and Morkel around. Add Philander to the mix perhaps Robin Peterson is our next long term tweeker with Faf and Duminy providing servicable arms.

    Domestically our bowling reserves feature promising quicks but Aaron Phangiso is an interesting option for the future.

  • David on December 4, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    If JP & Faf put a lot of work into their bowling, and really focus on becoming impact bowlers like Kallis, Tommytucker's team could be a formidable one. A lefty & a righty spinner to call upon to upset batsmen's rhythms & break partnerships is a skipper's dream. JP & Faf are good enough to move beyond "part-time" and become "short duration specialist" bowlers. It would require that they received the required coaching to become truly effective. 2 spinning all-rounders along with the King Kallis could be a brutal combination.

  • Tony on December 4, 2012, 14:34 GMT

    So sometime in the future Kallis will make way and Petersen is not that young either. The lineup could then change with Elgar opening and de Kock coming in as stumper batting at 7. This team could easily have a good 5 - 6 years at the peak, though there are only de Lange, Elgar and de Kock that can be rated as next generation.

  • P Subramani on December 4, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    There are many bowlers from Pakistan who try to copy Abdul Qadir's action who was a very good leg spinner. Imran too has the same action. He does have some skills but I feel he goes not think very well on his line of attack and bowling strategy. Maybe he needs to practice a lot.

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