Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 5, 2014

Peterson in Australia's sights

With Australia having given the opposition spinners a torturous time in recent months, Robin Peterson will have his work cut out for him in the upcoming series

Australia's plans to unbalance South Africa in their first steps beyond Jacques Kallis era will include a surgical strike against the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson, the man expected to take up much of the bowling slack left by the retired allrounder.

Irrespective of the pitch prepared for the first Test at Centurion Park, Peterson is expected to take his place in the side and alongside the part-time spinner JP Duminy, will be responsible for offering respite for Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

Knowing this, the tourists' net sessions have duly featured notable passages against left-arm spin, either by a net bowler directed to challenge Australia's middle order batsmen from around the wicket, or by the coach Darren Lehmann delivering left-arm spinning throw downs at a close approximation of Peterson's trajectory.

Lehmann has also been seen in discussion with the likes of Shane Watson and Brad Haddin about the best avenues down which to attack Peterson and Duminy, taking into account the thinner Highveld atmosphere and the dimensions of Centurion Park. Recent history suggests they will be confident of forcing Graeme Smith to withdraw his slow men far earlier than he would prefer.

The treatment meted out to other spin bowlers to have faced Australia since Lehmann settled in as coach has been brutal, from James Tredwell and R Ashwin in the overseas ODIs that preceded the home Ashes, to the wanton destruction of Graeme Swann that hastened his retirement. With Kallis' steady seam bowling no longer available, the battle against Peterson will be critical to Australia's chances of pushing South Africa to lean very heavily upon their vaunted pace triumvirate.

"I think they'll use probably Duminy and him simultaneously," David Warner said of Peterson. "They've got to hold up one end as well as they can, and if we put pressure on both of them they're going to have to bring back their quicks. I think that's a job we did very well against England.

"Any team that has quality fast-bowlers, always try and take down the spinner. We did that against Graeme Swann. We know England tried to do that to Nathan, we tried to do it against Robin when he played against us in Australia [in late 2012]. We've got to respect him, and then when we feel we can go after him we'll go after him."

The Perth encounter during the 2012 series is cause for some caution from Australia's batsmen, for in that match they were guilty of getting a little too overexcited in their efforts to belt Peterson out of the WACA Ground, offering up six wickets, including that of Ricky Ponting in his final innings. It is also notable that they were partly baited into doing so by Peterson's verbal provocations and wild celebrations of his wickets.

"We see 'Gaz' [Nathan Lyon] as the quiet assassin. Robin Peterson is a bit 'out there' and likes to get into verbal contests," Warner said, not quite grasping his own reputation for initiating banter. "Sometimes, as a batter, if they've got that chip on their shoulder we're willing to take them down a bit more."

Swann may be categorised among those chippier types, but the inoffensive natures of Tredwell and Ashwin did little to spare them punishment. In England, Tredwell was carted for 151 runs at 7.42 an over, meaning he bowled only 20.2 overs in four matches as the hosts were compelled to look elsewhere for economy.

Likewise Ashwin was a bowler diminished in menace from the moment he was taken for 41 from two overs in a Twenty20 fixture at the outset of the limited-overs tour of India, during which he went for near enough to six runs an over after tying the Test men in knots earlier in the year.

These successes bred a confidence that was then utilised to maximum advantage against Swann, who bled runs at nearly four per over in three Tests before abruptly announcing his exit from the game. For Peterson, a sporadic participant in South Africa's recent years of Test supremacy, a similar outcome would not only damage his side's chances of a home win, but also consign him to the ranks of the also-rans.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here