Spotlight on South Africa's wicketkeeping, captaincy positions
South Africa's national squad trained together for the first time in over six months on Monday, but their long layoff has not cooled their desire to take on an old enemy, Australia. Robin Peterson believes the winter break and the nature of the opposition have provided enough motivation to have them raring to go.
"Even though we hate to admit it we probably are more psyched to play them [Australia]. We come from a similar background where we're all competitive and we respect each other for that," Peterson said in Cape Town. "A lot of the guys have played enough cricket in the past weeks to be ready and in form."
Eight of South Africa's 15-man squad were recently involved in the Champions League while the other seven have had two weeks of first-class cricket to prepare them for the season. One of them, wicketkeeper Heino Kuhn, has been keenly awaiting the start of the international season because he sees it a chance to get another shot at a big break.
"For me it will be like a World Cup final. I have this one opportunity to perform," Kuhn said. "One thing I've learnt from AB [de Villiers] is to take your opportunity and I want to take this one with both hands." Kuhn has played in three T20s for South Africa, the first almost two years ago against England and the next two against Zimbabwe last year.
Despite being earmarked as a long-term successor to Mark Boucher, playing in numerous A team tours and boasting a first-class average of over 40, he has never even had an opportunity in an ODI, a sign that the selectors are not ready for Kuhn to make a step up. The 27-year-old believes he can do just that, however, and said the two matches will give him a chance to "show my skills against the Aussies."
He does not feel as though he needs to do anything special and said his keeping will be up to standard because "I just love to catch the ball." In two first-class games this season, Kuhn has already taken seven catches and effected one stumping
It may be with bat in hand that Kuhn will have to convince. He would have already tweaked the national selectors' interests with his unbeaten 90 on a turning pitch for the Titans against Dolphins in last weekend's SuperSport Series match in Pietermaritzburg. Although he will have to apply himself in a different format, Kuhn is confident he can make the adjustment quickly. "I'm not worried about adapting from four-day to T20 cricket so quickly. I don't think there's a big difference," he said. "A lot of people think that in T20 cricket you just have to slog the ball but you can actually get boundaries by playing proper cricket shots."
Kuhn will likely bat at No. 6 or 7, positions that have traditionally been reserved for a big hitter, and Kuhn will be under pressure to perform. One of those slots would have been Albie Morkel's, but the allrounder was ruled out with an abdominal muscle strain and has been replaced by Ryan McLaren. Kuhn and McLaren will have to form the pair that provides the final burst. "Albie's injury puts a bit more pressure on us batting-wise but it's a good challenge for the lower order," he said.
Morkel was joined in the casualty ward by new limited-overs captain AB de Villiers, who had to withdraw from the squad after breaking his finger during the Champions League. It means South Africa will start their season on a somewhat unsettled note, with Hashim Amla standing in as skipper.
Peterson thinks Amla will embrace his new role and provide sufficient guidance for the team at the start of the season. "He is a natural leader. Whether he captains or not, he always leads from the front. He's one of those guys that quietly goes about his business," Peterson said. "Everyone's different and unique. They do things their way and Hashim will do it his way and that's important if he's going to do well at this level."
While the spotlight will be on the keeper and captain, there will also be some interest in Peterson, who will take to the field for the first time in an international since his dream run at the World Cup, where he ended as South Africa's highest wicket-taker. He will be anxious to repeat that success at home, in conditions that are not quite so spinner-friendly.
Peterson said he will stick to the basics in order to take wickets. "I haven't thought too much about applying more flight and those type of aspects. It's just my natural styling of bowling and if it's going to allow me to take wickets in the process then I'll flight it. I do try to mix things up against different players. Sometimes quicker, sometimes more flight. It's about adapting."
Without Dale Steyn in the T20 squad, South Africa have been made even more aware of the danger of Australia's opening pair, David Warner and Shane Watson, but Peterson said they are not going to isolate them as the only players to target. "There's not only Warner and Watson, there's like six or seven players that can take the game away from you" he said. "We're not only focusing on the opening pair."