South Africa in England 2012 July 26, 2012

Pressure points the way for Petersen

Alviro Petersen is the latest South Africa opener to be tested by English conditions - but that may play to his strengths

Big series, big names. When the battle for No. 1 was played on keyboards and in broadcasters' studios before the first Test, it was reputation that won. So far, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn have proved them right. The four put in performances worthy of their statuses and left some of their own team-mates, and every England squad member bar Alastair Cook, behind them.

Not that there are many small fry. England probably only have one in Ravi Bopara, who didn't play a Test for almost a year and has to perform under a cloud of pressure that is about to burst into a monsoon. South Africa have Imran Tahir, who finally made a significant impact after seven Tests without shaking the world. Two others, Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy spent the match contesting who stomped on more grass, though Rudolph did have a job in shining the ball and carrying hats and caps while Duminy bowled a few overs.

But the performance of Alviro Petersen, South Africa's No.2 in the batting line-up, is the one that cannot slip away quietly even if only because it sticks out so obviously. Petersen's duck is sandwiched between a score of 131 and another of 311. Below that is Kallis' 182.

It would be easy to write off Petersen as "that other guy who opens the batting" but to do that would be unfair. What happened to Petersen could just as easily have happened to Smith and it did happen to both Andrew Strauss and Cook. He was on the receiving end of a very good ball, a James Anderson inswinger that struck him on the pad. In his column on a South African website, Petersen called it "the best ball of the match".

Steyn, Morne Morkel and even Tahir may disagree but Petersen's point remains. England has shown itself to be one of the most difficult places to open the batting and, apart from Graeme Smith, South Africans have struggled historically in here. Andrew Hudson managed just 30 runs in four innings in 1994 and Gerhardus Liebenberg fared little better four years later, with 59 runs in six innings. Smith prompted the improvement in recent tours, which took the spotlight off his partners. Three of them, Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and Neil McKenzie all averaged over 30 in England but relied on a handful of big innings rather than a series of consistent performances in the country.

Gibbs and McKenzie have had the most fruitful pairings with Smith, for any opening partner who has played more than 20 innings with him. The next most successful is Petersen, who has opened with Smith 25 times. Together, they have put on half-century stands seven times and three-figure partnerships twice - 153 against Pakistan in Dubai and 111 against India in Centurion. While both stands were impressive, they fall short of being called iconic.

England could change that. While the two pace attacks have been described as the ones to watch in this series, whoever can withstand the packs will also be worth keeping an eye on. Smith has already done that, Petersen still has to.

His has been a career build on performance under pressure. In his 13 Tests, he has already scored three centuries, all of them to prove a point. The first came on debut in India, the second on comeback in Cape Town and the third after he was thought to have fallen off the wagon a little in Wellington. "If you look at my career, even my first-class career, most of the time I've done things under pressure." Petersen said.

After two lean seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08, he came back to average 57.33 and 55.70 in consecutive southern summers, to force his way into the national team. After being dropped for Jacques Rudolph, he responded with a hundred on a green-top against Australia in a tour match. After being criticised in New Zealand for making a strong statement in his comeback against Sri Lanka but fading a little after that, he made a stronger one with 156 in the third Test.

It was that lull in New Zealand that led people to think Petersen can only perform when he is being targeted and he recognised that may be the case. "I've really tried to find a way of doing things even if there is no pressure. I try and get the edge and perform and prove a point to myself," he said. "In the past, it was always about proving points to other people. Now it's about proving it to myself. Sometimes I ask myself questions and challenge myself - can you do it, can you really do it?"

He may be asking himself the same question now. Petersen prepared for this series with a stint at Essex, but does not place too much emphasis on that. "Test match cricket is mostly about mental preparation," he said. "Sometimes in county cricket or first-class cricket you can't get to that standard of Test cricket in terms of firing yourself up and really getting battle-hardened. For me, it was really about trying to perform and knowing that when I come to face England it would be a different challenge."

Different because there will be pressure, more so now that the first Test has gone and Petersen was not among its performers. It may not be the same as the individual demands he has faced in the past; but the bowlers, the conditions, the occasion and the success of the team will all add different degrees of that pressure he has thrived on before, and could help him be among the big names of the series and the future.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on July 27, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    Peterson was unlucky - he did get an Anderson special. That said, I don't think he should be telling the media " was the ball of the match." @Robeli - knoiw what you mean, but really, Smith's reputation over a long career would preclude such talk after one failure. Good luck to Petersen, he has had a reasonable start to his test career.

  • Steven on July 27, 2012, 21:20 GMT

    Seem to recall both Strauss and Cook got ducks in the last test too........ He got a food one from Jimmy Anderson! I'd rather write about Strauss's abovious problems against Morne Morkel, or how Trott doesn't look to happy against Dale Steyn, or how Kp played a shocking 2nd innings, or how Bopara looked like he should only play in white clothing the garden with a tennis ball.............. Won'tbe the first opener to get a good one. No Pressure on the man.

  • Roelof on July 27, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    Hmmm. Clearly Moonda had to do an article and since all the accolades has already been dished out to SA performers and bashing of English loosers completed, lets looked at that guy who got the duck and bash him! Leave Petersen alone. What if Smith got that 'only good ball of Anderson in the match' and got the duck instead? Would Moonda been calling for Smith's retirement?

  • joel on July 27, 2012, 13:05 GMT

    Well lets give the fella a chance , i say . I believe hes playing in England for the first time , he got a good ball off Anderson . So far his scoring figures look very impressive , hes playing in a brilliant batting line up . Enough of all that , come on England . Lets make a decent series , and destroy the Saffers at headingly

  • Satish on July 27, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    Lol.. One bad game.. No pressure absolutely on this guy.. He did score before this series and England is not new to him.. He was the captain of a county team.. If there is something to write about him, it should be his drop catch.. A player getting duck is no new in cricket..

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    Peterson must be wondering what must i do to keep media off my back. This is not even funny. How quickly things change for #1 team - riding high just few days ago to a comprehensive defeat soon after - Let us accept it - No one can stay at the top for long these day and age and that is probably a good thing. I was sick of WI and then Australia being up there forever - so what it seemed like anyway - South Africa are right up right now there but their real test would be playing Australia in Australia. England beat the crap out of Aussies, WI, India recently yet lost miserably to Pak and then scrapped a win against SL. It will be interesting if they loose to India to India.....You get the point. In the meantime media leave Peterson alone. lol. At the end of the day, remember England managed to get just two wickets in 5 days. And from what I know, Peterson is not a bowler. Oh, I also thing England played way too many games than SA lately. SA had less to loose and everything to gain.

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