India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 1st day February 14, 2010

Petersen conquers Eden Gardens

N Hunter

For years, Issac Petersen has driven members of the international media around in Port Elizabeth. During pleasant rides to hotels on the beautiful seafront, Issac talks about his son, Alviro, asking journalists to remember his name for the future. Now he can rest easy about marketing his son, who, at majestic Eden Gardens, became only the third batsman to score a century on Test debut for South Africa.

With doubts persisting over Graeme Smith's injured finger on the eve of the match, the team management had asked Petersen to mentally prepare himself for a debut. It was a smart move. "Yesterday, they told me [I was] in the team 99%," Petersen said. "So I had the evening to really think it over, and visualise what I wanted to achieve out of it."

Sunday morning, when Graeme Smith called correctly at the toss for the second time in the series, Petersen's wait was over. At 29, he had been running out of time to start his Test career only because he is a specialist opener. He had come into national reckoning in 2006 but the lack of an innings of impact kept him on the fringes of selection. Though he played a few ODIs, it wasn't until England arrived in 2009 that Petersen got a real opportunity. Herschelle Gibbs' downward spiral forced the selectors to think about alternatives and Petersen made a strong case for himself with three half-centuries in all three matches he played.

Those innings were just an extension of his splendid form in domestic cricket. In the 2008-09 season Petersen, playing for Highveld Lions, stacked up 1376 runs in 15 matches, including six centuries, two of which came in the final-round game against the Titans. It was a South African record for most runs in a season, surpassing Hylton Ackerman (1373) and Barry Richards (1285). Ashwell Prince was behind Petersen with 1180 runs last year.

Both Petersen and Prince grew up in the same neighbourhood in the northern suburbs of Port Elizabeth. They learned their cricket at the Gelvandale ground, which had frugal resources, and sharpened their reflexes by batting against tape ball on the streets.

So it was fitting that Petersen replaced Prince as an opener, and the left-hander dropped down to his usual middle-order spot because Mark Boucher was unfit. Prince has been a reluctant opener, but the South African selectors, left with no option, kept him at the top.

Petersen walked out to bat sporting the same smile he had when Graeme Smith presented him with the cap during the team huddle. He started with a boundary in his first over, flicking a loose delivery from Ishant Sharma. During the next four hours, there was a constant flow of innocuous deliveries from the Indians and Petersen, in the company of Hashim Amla, flayed them with ease.

Perhaps India's bowlers, in their attempt to intimidate the debutant, overdid it. Both Zaheer Khan and Ishant were wayward in the crucial first session when the ball swung. They fed him a diet of short deliveries or ones that were pitched on driveable lengths. The early fall of Smith did not deter Petersen either, and he hooked Ishant in the next over. When Zaheer committed the folly of bouncing his opponent, he too was dispatched to the midwicket boundary. "They were trying to get me out early and offered me a couple of boundary balls," Petersen said.

Playing with the full face of the bat, Petersen displayed elegant footwork to get close to the pitch of the ball before deciding on his shot. The presence of Amla at the other end helped him. Amla, the double centurion at Nagpur, played the role Kallis usually does, dominating the spinners, especially Harbhajan, who was hardly bowled in the second session.

Amla's assurance allowed Petersen to grow in confidence. Only in the nineties did he get nervous and offer a chance for the first time, failing to negotiate the reverse swing of Ishant convincingly. He did not succumb, though, and raised his bat after a deserved century, acknowledging the support of his team.

Eden Gardens can be an intimidating venue because of its size, its raucous crowds and the historic battles fought there. AB de Villiers had said on Saturday that it is a special ground to play cricket on, a place every cricketer wants to excel. For Petersen the feeling was the same, especially on the day of his debut, but he did not allow anything to overawe him.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Par on February 15, 2010, 5:13 GMT

    any prediction on "indian" batting are null in the scenario of a Sehwag blast!

  • Matthew on February 15, 2010, 3:43 GMT

    Milind Kandlikar - "this guy's first class average is 37 after almost a decade of playing. How good can he really be?"

    Good enough to get a ton on debut at Eden Gardens. Sheesh bro, give props to dudes who make it to the Test Game. Then congratulate them even more when they get a ton on debut! I see he hooks and pulls well. Thats an excellent sign for an opening batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on February 15, 2010, 3:37 GMT

    good debut india need atleadt 450 to win this game.I think india will make it against SF attack if steyn is good dont forget tendulkar, laxman, shewa, gambhir they are well talented player.they dont have to prove anything

  • Dummy4 on February 15, 2010, 3:19 GMT

    @ NEUTRAL_FAN: Hopefully you can look up "neutral" in the dictionary cause you obviously have no idea what the word means. Lame dude!!!

    @Milind Kandlikar: How good can he be? Well, he can score a century in his first Test match against India's best bowlers at a Sehwag-like run rate. Instead of down-playing Alviros innings why not ask real questions, like why it took so long for the bowlers to bowl short at Amla or why Sharma is even playing or why it took so long to get Peterson a spot in the starting 11. There are too many legitimate questions you could ask......but you ask "How good can he really be?". When you also watched score a century. Lame dude!!!!

  • Par on February 14, 2010, 23:09 GMT

    Seriously, Neutral fan ? This sets up a good game, only because SA would have run away with it and sealed it on day 2 evening (by having India 15 for 1 after posting 550!) But thats not the case here. My prediction, India will get themselves to not more than 50-60 runs above whatever SA post and then crumble in innings II with right about 325-350 to chase. SA innings I - 275 India I - 340 max SA innings II - 400 India folds chasing 330 odd runs!

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2010, 20:03 GMT

    Forget giving de Villiers the gloves long term. It takes a special batsman to make that work, and whilst he is very good, I'm sure we'll see him go down the same path as say Alec Stewart.

    Ashwell out Duminy on notice. And whomever is the next gloveman...

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2010, 18:23 GMT

    Petersen became the third South African to slam a hundred on debut. Petersen, who made a Test debut after becoming the highest run scorer in the history of South Africa's four-day domestic competition last season with 1376 runs to his credit, made it memorable with a century in his first Test.

    Inspite of a blistering knock and hard work, his wicket created a loop hole to the South African dramatic collapse after tea. He should have played more responsibly after hitting a century rather than fishing outside the off stump against India's strike bowler Zaheer Khan.

  • Manasvi on February 14, 2010, 17:02 GMT

    Good for Alviro! I think it's time that the SA team persist with the current lineup once Boucher comes back. Duminy should be dropped until he rediscovers his form and Boucher can come in. Once Bocuher retires, de Villiers can take up the gloves lending solid depth in batting to compensate for the retirement of Kallis who will probably be gone within the next 2-3 years.

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2010, 16:38 GMT

    Well Done Peterson...Now Peterson's sudden success at the top means either Duminy or Prince has to sit out from the team when Boucher returns...So next innings is so decisive for both those players,because it would decide which way their career is going to deform...

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2010, 16:21 GMT

    Petersen just got lucky as many decisions went for him. The Indians also bowled poorly. Not to be grudge his effort today - but this guy's first class average is 37 after almost a decade of playing. How good can he really be?

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