Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 9, 2014

Peterson does not mind being 'underestimated'

The fast bowlers are snarling at each other from afar. The batsmen are talking up their packs and their own skills are against the opposing ones. But there are some people involved in the upcoming South Africa-Australia tussle who are quite happy to advertise their admiration for each other: Robin Peterson and Nathan Lyon. 

The two spinners can't seem to get enough of talking each other up. On Thursday, Nathan Lyon called Robin Peterson a "world-class spinner", and today Peterson returned the compliment. "I have always admired Nathan Lyon. He is a quality performer," Peterson said. "Maybe the Ashes in England would have been different if they had picked him in the first two Tests." 

Lyon was sidelined for fresh-faced Ashton Agar in those two matches, who proved more of a novelty value with the bat than consistent choice with the ball. Australia lost both and went back to Lyon for the next three games, of which they drew two. Peterson knows all too well what that feels like.

After winning his place in the Test XI in Perth in November 2012, Peterson played South Africa's next six matches but after a poor performance in Abu Dhabi last October, he was dropped for Imran Tahir. The legspinner had a similarly disappointing return against India in Johannesburg two matches later and that opened the door for Peterson again. It's been an uncertain ride. 

Peterson was given a vote of confidence when he was named the only spinner in the squad to face Australia. Despite that, his name remains the one most dimly lit up in the South African XI. He accepts that as the fate of the South African tweaker, who is surrounded by spitting seamers. "I don't think you ever get a vote of confidence as a spinner in South Africa," he said. "When you bowl behind No. 1 and 2 Test ranked bowlers in the world, I don't think eyes are going to light up when Morne Morkel comes in, it will be the poor spinner who gets it."  

But Peterson admitted that, like Lyon, if he is seen as a soft target, it allows him to sneak in under the radar where he can pose a threat of his own. "Sometimes the guys get underestimated and when they are underestimated, that's when they are at their most dangerous," he said. Australia have made no secret of their intention to go after Peterson, which does not worry him. They tried it in Perth, India tried in Durban and the result was wickets for Peterson. 

Should something similar happen in this series, Peterson hopes both he and Lyon can bank on a healthy haul. "I'm sure Nathan Lyon and myself would like to go unnoticed and pick up our two or three wickets each match but we also know at some point we'll have to make an impact." 

The second and third Tests will be played in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, two venues where spinners could play a bigger part than usual because of the nature of the pitches. St George's Park may be slow and low while Cape Town has been the best venue for spinners in South Africa recently, with Saeed Ajmal claiming 10 wickets in a Test there last summer. 

Peterson predicts those are the two venues where he could come to the fore but has not ruled out Centurion as a place where he could perform too. "Sometimes the wicket looks green but there is a bit of moisture and there can be variation as well for spinners," he said. 

Last Thursday, six days before the first Test, Australia had their first practice at SuperSport Park and noted the pitch was almost indistinguishable from the outfield in colour. Today, three days ahead of kickoff, it was there but it was still quite green. 

The Centurion surface is often a bright shade before the match and has a healthy covering of grass but that does not mean it will only be a seamer's paradise. It is also the pitch Paul Harris and Imran Tahir bowled in tandem for the Titans on, in a season where they won a first-class competition, so they may be a bit for everyone. 

A bit is all Peterson says he needs. "When you play in South Africa, you get accustomed to the wickets not really turning, so you try and create pressure with your field placings," he said. "I don't think your game plan ever changes as a spinner. You look to turn the ball hard and land it in the right place and if the batsman tries to hit you for six, that's his problem but if he runs past it, happy days for me." 

Even though Peterson has high hopes for both himself and Lyon in the series, he does not think Australia will risk going into the first Test with two spinners now that Shane Watson has been ruled out. "I think they'll go for the allrounder," he said. "You don't want to leave yourself short in South Africa.

"If you only have three seamers and one breaks down, you could end up short. It's a massive blow for them to lose Shane. He is a guy that can take the game away with bat or ball but we know whoever replaces him will be up for it. If you're being selected in an Australian Test squad, you should be able to step up." 

That's almost exactly the words Lyon used about Peterson. "If you're playing Test cricket, you must be doing something right." Peterson would agree.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent