South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day December 17, 2010

Harbhajan assault was deliberate - Petersen

Alviro Petersen's strongest statement of the day was made in the 20th over. He went down on a bent knee and slog-swept Harbhajan Singh over deep square leg for six. He had previously pulled Ishant Sharma to square-leg, driven Jaidev Unadkat through mid-off and Sreesanth through the covers, but this was that shot that expressed his intentions.

"We didn't want Harbhajan to settle," Petersen said later. "We felt that if the ball was in our scoring areas and we could hit it, we would."

Graeme Smith went on to play a confident cut, a classy on-drive and a powerful pull and Harbhajan went for 19 in his first couple of overs. After Smith's exit, Harbhajan got away with three boundary-less overs and if not for a drop from MS Dhoni, would have dismissed Hashim Amla. Petersen receded into his shell a little and came out only to drive a full Sreesanth delivery on the on-side.

"We needed to have a lot of patience on this wicket." Petersen said. He admitted that both he and Smith were tentative early on and "weren't worried about the runs on the board," as much as about seeing off the new ball and any early movement. "The longer you stay in, the easier it gets to bat," he said - an observation that implied he was disappointed that he didn't push on to reach three figures. He was driving confidently in the morning session and looked set to continue in that vein. If he had, it would have gone a long way in cementing an opening slot.

Petersen took over the role at a time when South Africa was going through a mini-crisis. Ashwell Prince had made clear his desire to return to the middle order, Herschelle Gibbs had fallen out of favour and into rehab. Two strong seasons at the first-class level made Petersen the automatic choice. In 2008-09 season he finished third highest domestic scorer with 798 runs in nine matches at an average of 49.87. In the 2009-10 season, he made 557 runs in seven matches at an average of 55.7.

With JP Duminy suffering a loss of form after the heroics that in Australia and Prince desperate to return to the middle order, it made sense to bring Petersen in. In February, after the first Test against India in Nagpur, the time was right. Prince had made a duck opening and Duminy nine runs at No. 6. Duminy was dropped, Prince moved down and there was room for Petersen.

His debut - a crunch match against India at Eden Gardens - was going to be more mentally taxing than anything else. When Smith fell in the third over with the score on nine, it looked like Petersen was in for a rough ride. It would have been a topsy-turvy experience had he not been joined by the supremely confident and in-form Hashim Amla. Both went on record centuries and Petersen's talent had announced itself on a grand stage.

Apart from that, Petersen has not had a situation tough enough to test his mettle as an opener. He is playing in just his seventh match and has had a fairly gentle introduction to the big time. Ideally, after Kolkata, he should have gone on to stake a claim by scoring a century or two in the June tour of the Caribbean. Instead, he returned from three Tests with only one half-century to his name. His return in the two Tests against Pakistan was better and he looked likely to score a century in the first Test in Dubai before falling for 67.

A second Test century is probably due for Petersen now, but he will have to wait for a while, possibly until the next match. Petersen didn't appear too concerned with not reaching the milestone in the first innings and said South Africa wanted to "bat India out of the match." He said the dressing room was "not satisfied with where we are now in the match" and had not yet thought about a declaration. Only a massive lead will satisfy South Africa and they only want to bat once.

"The wicket is getting quicker and it's changing quite a lot. A quick wicket suits our strengths so that's what we want," Petersen said, a warning to India that another blitz can be expected from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in the second innings.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent