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England may not have expected it from Alviro Petersen or JP Duminy but toughness runs through this team
Firdose Moonda at Headingley
August 3, 2012
Despite evidence from the cricket team to the contrary, discipline is not a subject taught in South African schools. Neither is temperament or tenacity. Still, almost all of the batting performances and most of the bowling - bar the opening spells on the second evening- have been synonymous with control.
Flair, that great hallmark of subcontinental and Caribbean batting and talent, the tenet on which English and Australian approaches have been built, feature in healthy quantities in the South Africa line-up. But discipline and determination have been the main ingredients of batsman from Kepler Wessels to Graeme Smith. They have been exceptions - Herschelle Gibbs the most glaring - but the predominant approach has been one based on solidity rather than style or skill.
Smith hacks the ball with all the viciousness of a butcher but he would sooner have his own toe cut off than allow his stumps to be disturbed. Jacques Kallis can draw the most picture-book strokes in any innings he chooses to but if he needs to simply stand and defend, he will. All day. Hashim Amla's finely crafted finesse is never on display without careful calculation and even AB de Villiers, who is the most flamboyant of the current crop, tempers his belligerence with shrewd application.
To understand just how far that philosophy has filtered, consider that the two batsmen England would have least expected to defy them, did so in this match. Alviro Petersen, recognised in these parts for a spell with Glamorgan that ended unhappily and JP Duminy, remembered for a 2008 ODI tour which ended in tatters, showed the same patience and persistence the batsmen around them have become known for.
Together they dominated the day and made a statement for the kind of approach South Africa has adopted in this series: to grind down an opposition that are, on rankings, superior to them but on the field, less so. Neither was an innings of great beauty but the results were more so.
Petersen found fresh air more than he did the ball as he played and missed time and time again. For the entire first day, he had to fight for almost every run on an unhelpful pitch. Ten of his 16 boundaries came through good placement, which reads well enough, except that he could easily have been out off any of the other six.
On the second morning, he withstood an England attack that had found another gear, one good enough to bowl six consecutive maiden overs. In that time, Petersen, like so many before him, could easily have given away the century he had amassed overnight with a cheap and careless dismissal but he did not. He even had the confidence to review being given out lbw for the second time, knowing the ball was missing leg stump.
The awareness of his position was a sign of the confidence Petersen has in his own game, something he has developed and fine-tuned over years in the first-class game. "He has always had a decent technique and really good skills but he has really tightened up his game in the last couple of years," Russell Domingo, South Africa's assistant coach said. "He was less patient than he is now. He has got an astute understanding of what's important for his own game and he sticks to that."
Petersen's knowledge has come from years of experience. Having made his first-class debut 11 years ago, he has had enough time to practise in his position as anyone would want and has used that time to instil discipline in himself. "South Africa is a tough place to bat as an opener but the longer you do it, the better you become at it," Domingo said. "He has found a good gameplan and had sound mental capacity to churn out big scores."
He also had some experience in England, although not all of it successful, to fall back on. "That really helped me in terms of knowing where my scoring areas are in England. In South Africa, I usually looking to hit down the ground but in England it's a lot squarer," Petersen said.
That tactical analysis showed in that half of Petersen's runs came in the arc between square leg and midwicket, rather than straight. What did not appear as obviously was the mental preparation he had done, especially after coming under scrutiny for a slow start on this tour. While his place in the side was never in danger, Petersen was expected to perform better and just as calls for him to be chopped bubbled up, he did.
"Whatever pressure he must have felt was from himself because he sets himself such high standards," Domingo said. "He is an extremely goal-orientated and driven person and he is very determined to achieve the goals that he sets for himself. Criticism seems to bring the best out of him and he really responds well to tough situations."
Duminy did almost the same thing. Having to bat lower down than he would have liked - at No. 8 because of the use of a nightwatchman - he had to balance between protecting the tail and preventing the score from stagnating. He managed to accumulate 48 runs while doing that in barely noticeable fashion.
|"He is an extremely goal-orientated and driven. Criticism seems to bring the best out of him and he really responds well to tough situations" Russell Domingo on Alviro Petersen|
No longer the trailblazer who took a series away from Australia, Duminy went about doing what he needed to quietly. The areas he was previously exposed against - the short ball and offspin - are no longer issues and a more meticulous batsman has emerged. He ended up not having enough partners, an understandable outcome considering where he batted, but showed promising signs for his Test future. "He has done a lot of technical work and he is in a real good space at the moment," Domingo said.
Both Petersen and Duminy did not arrive yesterday. They have been playing cricket as professionals for the best of the last decade. It is there that the qualities that the South Africa management believes make for good international players are honed. Sometimes they exist inherently in players and need only to be brought out and sometimes they need to be taught.
At other times, they need to be re-taught. That was the case with Duminy, who had to go back to domestic cricket after being dropped from the national side, and perhaps even Petersen, who may have needed reminding. "You can only advise players at this level and they've got to buy into it," Domingo said. "Gary Kirsten wants players to make decisions by themselves and try and find a way for themselves without too much interference from outside."
So it was up to Petersen and Duminy themselves then to bring those elements to the fore again. They did so with the same discipline so many others before them have shown, proving that rigid as South Africa cricket may be, it is also ruthless.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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