New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 January 8, 2013

Peterson looking over his shoulder

Having been preferred to Imran Tahir for now, Robin Peterson will be hoping to nail down a place in South Africa's Test side while keeping one eye on Tahir's return to form

If Robin Peterson had eyes in the back of his head, they would be fixed on Newlands this weekend. While Peterson and the South African team will be in Port Elizabeth contesting the second Test against New Zealand, the Lions will take on the table-topping Cobras in a first-class fixture in Cape Town, with the resurgent Imran Tahir as part of their pack.

Tahir took 12 wickets in his last match to bowl the Lions to victory on a dry pitch in Durban where the bounce aided him. His tally since returning from his embarrassing Adelaide outing sits at 17 wickets in three matches at an average of 18.29. In that time, he has bowled only one no-ball, showing marked improvement from his constant overstepping on tour.

More importantly, he has regained his self-esteem which was left shredded after his Australian experience. "When he came back to us after the tour, he was very down," Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana told ESPNcricinfo. "But he has worked really hard and he is enjoying himself now and his confidence is up again."

Under Toyana, the Lions have had a culture change. Almost all of their squad credits that to the new energy and enthusiasm in the group and it seems to be contagious. Tahir returned to them to play in the domestic one-day cup final which was washed out on both the scheduled day and the reserve day. He took two wickets in two overs when the match was replayed and seemed to have a good time as he started to erase the Australian nightmare from memory.

He has come into his own in the longer form again thanks to careful coaxing by Toyana and his bowling coach Gordon Parsons. "We've told him not to try too many things at once," Toyana said. Tahir's desperation for variety cost him in Australia where he also failed to flight the ball and bowled quicker and flatter with little success. "His googly is working well for him and he has done very well against the left-handers," Toyana said.

The Lions have given Tahir a clear role and have altered their strategy when using him, which has also worked well. Tahir is an out and out strike bowler for them whereas at national level he has to balance between attack and defence. But he has not used his mandate as a wicket-taker to leak runs. In 112.1 overs, Tahir conceded 311 runs across the three matches, at a rate of 2.77 runs an over.

Toyana explained that field placings have helped Tahir create pressure and take wickets. "We've started off by getting the outfielders around in his first few overs and then once he has found rhythm, we bring in the short leg and the silly point and those kinds of close catchers," he said. "It's worked well for now because batsmen always try to attack Imran and with what we are doing, they have not got away with that."

With Tahir "still very much part of our plans," according to both coach Gary Kirsten and convener of selectors Andrew Hudson, Peterson should be feeling the heat. Although his Test comeback yielded six wickets, and subsequent match 1 for 42, he was guilty of delivering some loose balls and Brendon McCullum labelled him "innocuous".

Petersen is not letting outside influences affect him too much. "I like to stick to one game at a time. If you try and look too far ahead, you can get caught up in things," he said. At 33-years-old, he may not be thought to have a lengthy career ahead of him but Petersen had previously said he is of the school who believes cricketers really blossom after 30, so he hopes for an extended run.

He is also confident that he the right fit for the current South African outfit, because he offers a more all-round package than Tahir. "At the moment, I probably fit into what they want. I'd like to think I can win games for South Africa in the second innings when conditions suit and provide a bit of stability in the first innings," he said. "My role with the bat lower down the order is also important and there's the fielding aspect of it. I probably offer a few more dimensions."

While the merits of the mostly-containing versus the mostly-aggressive spinner continue to be debated in South African cricket, Peterson is enjoying his homecoming. Originally from Port Elizabeth, Peterson now plays his domestic cricket in Cape Town but admits it will be "special" to play a Test on his home turf.

"It's nice to see things come full circle for me from where it all started," he said. "I took my first five-for at St George's Park so hopefully it will be my first Test five-for as well." If it is, there may be no need to keep an eye on Tahir at all.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harjinder on January 10, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    Imran Tahir is best spinner in SA guys knows leg spin is a great art and all team players feel difficulties against leg breakers....he should be called ...any way ...SA has great team now.....GOOD LUCK

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    Edward Jones is surely the next cab off the rank

  • Sriram on January 9, 2013, 14:36 GMT

    So who is the best leg spinner, off spinner, left arm orthodox in the world right now? off spinner - Ajmal (though the 15 deg is still questionable), left arm orthodox - Herath, Leg spinner - None. So Tahir has a position there to make it for himself.

  • Gordon on January 9, 2013, 13:21 GMT

    I think South Africa could even go down the path of Aaron Phangiso at Test level even though he isn't as effective compared to the shorter forms. The good thing is there are lots of young spin bowlers coming the ranks in South African domestic level. My favourite and who has been for some time is Shaun Von Berg because he is also handy with the bat but the problem with him at the moment is that he has seemed to have lost his bowling.(He hasn't been taking many wickets recently) But I am hopeful he will start getting wickets again like I know he can. One player who I am not convinced about is Roelof van der Merwe at Test level because from matches I have seen with him playing in the four day form he doesn't tend to do very well.(look at his stats he is mostly better placed in the ODI or Twenty/20 teams but having said that he may prove me wrong)

  • Duncan on January 9, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    What we saw in Australia was the flip-side of Tahir's emotional bowling style, not to say it is a bad thing but it comes across as immature and perhaps Australia was a melt-down under pressure.

  • Gerald on January 9, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    @PPD123 - Have to agree there. Horses for courses not a bad approach with the spinner.

  • Gerald on January 9, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    Look, when Tahir first appeared I thought he was overhyped. I did not expect him to bomb quite as badly as he did, thought he would be more useful than Harris. At least Robin Peterson bats a bit as well but overall he is like Harris, in the team because we got no one else they feel comfortable with. If only one of Eddie Leie (26) or Shaun von Berg (26) would manage to step up both of whom bowl legbreak. Especially von Berg as he bats at 33 in FC where as Leie only does 14. They have got sub 30 avg and sub 50 strike rates. Just not sure how much of those stats are from the 3-day competition. They really should split 3-day sn 4-day FC stats. Makes things misleading at times. Then there is also Simon Harmer who is only 23 and bats 30s as well, although his bowling stats seem to have taken a pounding the last 12 months.

  • pradipto on January 9, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    Leg spin is a difficult art, If a batsman has a bad game he gets a PAIR like Dean Elgar did in WACA, if Tahir has a bad game, he still is required to bowl 20-30 overs and is hammered. If he shows character and bowls well in domestic games, he surely deserves a second chance. Nice to see Kirsten and Hudson think likewise.

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2013, 0:50 GMT

    Simon Doull was talking about some NZ players who are great at domestic level (Peter Fulton at al) but fail to deliver at national level. Tahir is in that camp. He does not have the temperament for Test match cricket. I would have loved to have seen him help us destroy the Aussies but the *worst* bowling figures in Test match history were not a fluke. He was that bad.

    Rank long hops, oversteps, buffet balls, rubbish full tosses and let's not mention his fieling or batting either. Stick with Robin P for now.