Pakistan in South Africa 2012-13 February 11, 2013

Robin Peterson looks for his place


Robin Peterson was feeling restless. While most of Test team-mates took a break after their victory over Pakistan at the Wanderers, he and his namesake Alviro, chose to play for their franchises in the final round of the first-class competition.

For Alviro, it may have been important to contribute in what was set up as a championship decider for a team desperate for silverware (which they did not win) but for Robin it was more a case of itchy feet. "I wanted to play for the Cobras," he said. "It's no fun sometimes being the spinner in South Africa and you go through periods of play where you don't even bowl."

In a team where winning has been the theme of the summer and the culture is as strong as it has ever been, it would seem unusual that the enjoyment isn't evenly spread. But Peterson can be forgiven. Although he has leapfrogged Imran Tahir as the first-choice spinner for the Test team, like Tahir, his opportunities to contribute have been minimal.

Since his six wickets against Australia in Perth, Peterson has spent two innings as a spectator - against New Zealand in the New Year's Test and against Pakistan in Johannesburg. Only Jacques Kallis, whose workloads are being managed, bowled fewer overs than Peterson in Cape Town against New Zealand and Peterson bowled the least number of deliveries of all the bowlers in Johannesburg.

On surfaces that have something for the quicks and with a pace attack as potent as the current South African one, Peterson understands that he is "surplus to requirements," and, for the most part, accepts it. "It can be frustrating but you have to realise you are part of a team. The team comes first.

"It's magnificent to watch Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Jacques perform the way they do with the ball. I know my time will come so I just have to hang in there and be patient and keep working hard. It's the best bowling attack I've ever played with and it's something special to be part of. I have a front row seat to awesome performances."

To the average cricket fan, that would sound ideal. But Peterson is not a fan, he is a paid professional and he is starting to realise how trying that can be when the chosen vocation in South Africa is spin. Having flirted with the idea of a wicket-taking spinner in Tahir, South Africa's Test strategy has resorted back to a holding tweaker in the Paul Harris mould.

"It's no fun sometimes being the spinner in South Africa and you go through periods of play where you don't even bowl"

Peterson is learning how to adjust to that. "In South Africa, you need to realise that there is a certain role you've got to perform, whether it's to keep it tight and give the seamers a bit of a break if there's no spin or if there is a bit on offer, to try make a breakthrough when the seamers can't. I'd love to play on turning wickets every weekend, but that's not the case in South Africa and you've got to adapt."

Newlands is the most spinner-friendly surface Peterson will come across but it is not the subcontinent. In the last 14 months, it has been the scene of two of the three first innings scores of under 50 in the country. The last spinner to prosper there was Harbhajan Singh who took 7 for 120 in January 2011 but in recent times, it has had more for Philander than Peterson.

He is not expecting that to change too much. "It would seem to be that the seamers do a lot of the damage but in saying that it's probably the only surface that we are going to play against Pakistan on where a spinner could come into his own so hopefully I get an opportunity. I think there will be a little bit on offer if the weather stays good."

South Africa also want to be careful not to prepare a pitch that will deteriorate too much because of the threat of Saeed Ajmal. "It would be foolish to do that," Peterson said. "He was their No. 1 Test bowler last year and you don't want to give him something that assists him."

That probably means that Peterson won't get any help from the pitch either so he may have to look for other ways to get in the game. His batting is thought to be another reason he trumps Tahir in selection terms but, like his bowling, that too has waned since Perth. There he scored 31 runs but since then has only managed 5, 8 and a duck.

"I was disappointed with the way I got out in Johannesburg," he said, remembering leaving a straight one from Mohammed Hafeez. "If the opportunity comes I'm going to go out there and show I'm a lot better than that."

He hopes to do the same with ball in hand which is why he opted for an extra match instead of a week off. However, Peterson bowled only 15 overs against the Knights. He took 2 for 33 in a first-innings workout of 13 overs and bowled just two in the second innings while the seamers did the bulk of the work. Business as usual then for Peterson.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rizwan on February 13, 2013, 2:53 GMT

    I highly doubt Robin Peterson's ability as a front-line test spinner. Very good bowler in shorter formats though.

  • Deon on February 12, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    From a strategic point of view SA should not play a tweaker in SA. They would be better off if they selected a fifth seamer who can bat. Personally I would go for Morris. He is fast and he can hit the ball hard. Some stats may help to get this point across. When Kallis was in the team, spinners (mainly Harris, Boje, Adams, Henderson, Tahir and Petersen) accounted for 420 wickets at an average of 41.66 and an appalling strike rate of over 83. Compare that to Kallis' stats: 288 wickets at an average of 32.22 and a strike rate of less than 69. This analysis suggests that SA would be better off picking a fifth seamer. At present Morris is the man. Gqamane is one to watch.

  • dj on February 12, 2013, 9:30 GMT

    It's not all that complicated Robbie . You take wickets and you score runs . If you can't do the above you will get dropped.

  • Athol on February 12, 2013, 9:16 GMT

    @lordkratos yes I agree with you wholeheartedly. Very few spinners, with the exception of perhaps Warne and Murali, have enjoyed any great success in SA.

  • KYLE on February 12, 2013, 8:40 GMT

    So Peterson would rather be in a scenario where the Proteas were not bowling sides out for 50 and dominating test cricket just so that he can get a chance to bowl!?

    SA has the best fast bowling unit in years and we must continue to develop tracks that enhance that weapon. Bottom line is that when RP does get a chance, he must do the job required of him.

    He is NOT an attacking spinner, never has been and will struggle to fulfill any other role.

    If I was him I would focus on all aspects of his game - his batting has been shocking of late, where he has been provided with chances and has also dropped some catches too.

  • Amjad on February 12, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    well, you have to feel for RP, if a spinner like Ajmal, the best there is whole world is not having an impact then thinking RP to do something is just wishful thinking. The pitches dont have anything in them for spinners besides Pak batters are masters of playing spin bowling. Maybe SA should try spraying some herbicides on the pitch to reduce the amount of green grass on them. SA will need spinners when they tour sub continent so they'll need lots of practice on pitches that assist spin bowling to an extent up there in SA.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    I want to see Tahir again. He was basically chopped for one ame in which he was amazed around, something that happens to all spinners sometime or another. I waited years for his inclusion and he was barely used. Surely he's proved his mettle repeatedly by now?

  • yuvraj on February 12, 2013, 2:00 GMT

    To be honest we have to play peterson as spinner for test matches. We need quality spinners to keep our dominance in subcontinent. So we should start grooming spinners from nowon. Peterson is the best option we have now.

  • Tim on February 11, 2013, 21:12 GMT

    I've been impressed with the way Tahir has bounced back and done so well in provincial cricket. Is he doing enough? This is up for discussion. A spinner gives us a nice balance and more options. RP didn't have his best game in Joburg but over the years he has has shown himself to be a durable and I'm sure he will bounce back. An all seam attack may be a step backwards and a bit defensive.