ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
World Cup 2011
Practical Peterson makes the most of opportunities
Despite being under-rated for most of his career, Robin Peterson has shouldered the criticism, and has now started to enjoy his role in the South Africa team
February 16, 2011
There was some surprise when Robin Peterson was initially selected to play for South Africa in 2002. There has been surprise almost every time he has made an international appearance since then. There was surprise from some quarters when he was announced in the World Cup squad but the biggest surprise of all came when he emerged from South Africa's warm-up games as the highest wicket-taker with the five scalps, proof that maybe his inclusion is not so surprising after all.
Peterson's left-arm spin has been one of the most under-rated elements of South African cricket for some time. He has shouldered criticism from all sides, mostly from people who say that he is ineffective and doesn't turn the ball enough but Peterson has worn the condemnation bravely. "I don't play for people, I am playing for my country and for people who have been there for me from the start," he told ESPNcricinfo.
The ease with which Peterson brushes off the cynics is also a result of knowing that inconsistency in his selection may have spurred the naysayers on. He has been playing international cricket for eight years but has taken the field just 40 times in an ODI. Rarely has he made consecutive appearances in a series. "It's no fault of mine that I have not been in the starting eleven more often."
The constant question mark over his inclusion understandably made him anxious. "I was never settled and when that happens you are always trying to make sure you get picked for the next game." That sort of pressure would have been difficult to play under and Peterson said he was "always trying to put building blocks in place" in the past.
Now, things have changed, not just for Peterson but for South African cricket. Whereas as recently as a year ago, the starting line-up was almost always predictable, now there is a degree of uncertainty about positions in the middle order, which may have helped Peterson's own "mindset change" from being a bowler who was always trying to impress for the future to one who is willing to make the most of his present opportunities.
"I am being more myself now, which is maybe something I haven't done in the past. I have decided to do things my own way." Peterson is reverting to his "natural" game which is to "bowl aggressively," like he does at domestic level where he is a wicket-taker. His strike rate is 38.5 in List A games compared with 62.3 in ODIs, while his List A average is 29.45 compared to 50.33 in the green and gold. "I don't necessarily go out there and look to take five, but I do try as spin the ball as hard as I can and get it on a good length, and that always provides an opportunity to get a wicket."
Peterson emerged as an international cricketer in a South Africa where a comment like that would probably not have been made. Spinners were there to curb run flow and it was the seamers' job to think about how they could take wickets. In the past few months, that trend has changed. With the World Cup in mind, South Africa actively sought spinners so that they would have an attack that would suit the conditions. "It took South Africa a long time to wrap their heads around it but I think they have taken a step forward now."
The strategy has paid off so well that now all three of South African's frontline spinnes are bowling well and there is unlikely to be room for all of them in every match of the tournament. "If we can keep on giving the selectors these headaches then we are doing a good job." Peterson also said that he is relishing playing with his fellow tweakers. "I enjoy bowling with Imran [Tahir] and Johan [Botha]. We learn a lot from each other. Imran and I are the same age  and he is probably bowling his best at this age. Hopefully I will too."
What may give Peterson the edge over the other spinners is that he fulfils an allrounder's role and in this 15-man squad, is the second all-rounder behind Jacques Kallis. He is one of only four squad members to have played in a World Cup before and that experience will prove valuable. "I am also here to provide advice and keep a calm head under pressure. It's a nice responsibility."
Having been a member of the 2007 World Cup squad, Peterson had a good idea of how different a side South Africa are now. "We are excited as a squad and quite relaxed. We're prepared well, have given ourselves the best opportunity and have a quiet confidence. The guys know they can play under these conditions". It's a different speak altogether from the brash self-assurance South Africa have had in the past and judging by their new look and their new mindset, they may be ready for another surprise come April 2.
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