Petersen overcomes pressure with success, again
Before the start of the Hamilton Test, Alviro Petersen was asked what it was like to bat between the superstars. With names and reputations like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in the same line-up as him, Petersen was essentially being asked if he sometimes got lost in a galaxy of greats. He was asked the question again after his 156 in Wellington, the highest score by a South African batsman on this tour. His answer was the same again.
"I don't know," Petersen said, with a knowing look on his face, one that suggested he knew exactly how it felt to bat as well as any of those big names. "I am just focussed on my cricket. But, I don't want to be Jacques Kallis, I don't want to be Graeme Smith. I am Alviro Petersen."
Who exactly that is, we aren't sure. We probably won't know for many more Tests as Petersen establishes himself in the side. What we can say with confidence, is that Petersen is promising enough to be more than a speck of moondust in the atmosphere.
Petersen is playing in his 13th Test match and has already scored three hundreds. All of them came at a time when he has had to make a point. The first one was on debut, the second on his comeback after being dropped more because of the prolific form of Jacques Rudolph than any over-riding concern about his own ability and the third here, amid calls for whether he should open the batting despite his last big knock having come just three Tests ago.
Why Petersen faced pressure for his place from some quarters in this match remains a mystery. Although his century in the New Year's Test was overshadowed by Kallis' all-round efforts which included a double-hundred, it has not been completely erased from memory, especially not the memory of the selectors. He only managed 66 runs from his previous four innings in New Zealand but did not look inept by any means. At worst, he was uncomfortable in previous innings, was guilty of trying to play across the line too often, was lbw twice and adopted an approach that was perhaps too attacking.
He was certainly due a knock but it was not a do-or-die situation. The main source of anxiety for Petersen came from Petersen himself, who admitted that he was concerned about how he had played in the previous two matches. "I was under pressure coming into this game because of the standards I set for myself," he said. "I hadn't really scored a lot of runs in this series so it was important that I once I got in that I try and score big."
The crucial part was getting in. He looked a little shaky against the away movement but had the luxury of giving himself time to settle in because Amla was playing the role of the aggressor at the other end. He did have one edge go third slip's way in the early stages of his innings but was lucky to find no-one manning the area. When Amla got out, he had JP Duminy to push on. In that period, he offered another chance that went to Martin Guptill's right at second slip. Petersen was on 68 then and got away with it again. Then, he capitalised.
A hallmark of his play on the second afternoon was his execution of the pull, which came off perfectly almost every time. He said the bounce off the surface was something he enjoyed because it reminded him a little of home. "I grew up playing at the Wanderers so I think I am just used to a bouncier wicket," he said. "Facing the likes of Marchant [de Lange] in the nets, especially when he tries to take all our heads off, does make things easier as well."
He went to bed on Saturday night on 96 and returned to turn that into 100 by the second over on Sunday morning. With the sun out, the pitch flattened, the pulls from day two became the drives of day three as Petersen rolled them out in conditions which suited. "Today, the wicket played really nicely," he said. He looked well set to turn his hundred into a double but a lapse in concentration allowed New Zealand to break through and dismiss him the way they have twice before, trapping him lbw.
Petersen's annoyance at having made the same mistake was obvious. He accepted the umpire's verdict without asking for a review but went back to tap the pitch in a frustration that he lapsed back into a technical flaw he had tried to eliminate. Prior to this match, Petersen studied some footage of himself from previous games to see whether the mistake had crept in recently. "I had a look at some videos, especially of Newlands Test and just worked on a few things," he said. "I think in this game it came through quite nicely."
This innings has given Petersen a healthy dose of confidence ahead of South Africa's next tour - to England in July. His challenge will be to avoid waiting for a situation where he has to score runs to convince people he is worthy of star status but to keep piling them on regularly. "Every cricketer wants to be consistent and I am no different. It's just that, I enjoy pressure," he said. "I have to find a way of trying to put that pressure on every innings and almost play like it's my last game every time."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent