Peterson aims to repay renewed faith
For most sportsmen, the other side of 30 is a time for careers to be winding down not starting up. But Robin Peterson's career has just stuttered into life and as it rolls along as smoothly as a luxury sedan, it is little wonder the 32-year old feels like a young man again.
Petersen has just completed his third, full ODI series in nine years of playing international cricket. He has also been called up to the Test squad for the series against New Zealand and has earned an IPL contract. After years of yo-yoing in and out of the team, he has found a permanent spot. It seems all he needed to blossom was an assurance that he would be given a decent run.
"As a player you like to know that you are backed and I felt backed," Peterson told ESPNcricinfo. "I wanted to repay the confidence that was shown in me."
After finishing as South Africa' highest wicket-taker at the 2011 World Cup, Peterson had earned his chance but was left out of the series against Australia in October. With South Africa playing only one specialist spinner in the starting XI at home, Johan Botha got the nod. By the time Sri Lanka arrived in December, it was Petersen's turn.
Gary Kirsten made it clear from the beginning of the series that Petersen would get a sustained run and for the five matches, he kept Botha at bay. To the critical eye, the decision asked questions of the selectors and team management. Botha is miserly, has ability with the bat, is a former captain and is known for controlling the game for extended periods. Still, Peterson was the man in possession.
"There's no animosity, Johan has kept me out of the side for a long time and I know he'll come back," Peterson said. "It may have been for the balance of the side. With JP [Duminy] bowling offspinners, it was nice to have a left-arm spinner in the mix as well." South Africa went for variety as they started to experiment with a new-look squad, under a new-captain, AB de Villiers. Peterson said he could feel a change in the overall mood of the squad. "There's a young, fresh mindset with some nice ideas floating around," he said. "Guys are willing to take more risks. One of the criticisms on us previously is that is that we were a little too predictable."
From rotating the No. 4 batsman to juggling the bowlers creatively, de Villiers showed he is "not scared to try different things," and his most daring roll of the dice was when he gave Peterson the ball in the last over of the Wanderers match with six runs to defend. "AB just came to me and said I've got a feeling you might do something," Peterson said.
Something was taking two wickets in three balls before being hit for six by Sachitra Senanayake, a stroke which ended the match. It could have been something very different and it showed a new faith in the man. He ended the series as South Africa's second-highest wicket-taker with six wickets and the second-lowest economy-rate. AB de Villiers said he "has done enough to keep his place," indicating that Peterson is a major part of South Africa's future plans.
Following the series, Peterson was called up to the Test squad and was one of only three South Africans to be picked up at the IPL auction. His US$100,000 price tag, which the Mumbai Indians paid for, was double what Herschelle Gibbs (also Mumbai Indians) and Marchant de Lange (Kolkata Knight Riders) went for.
"I was part of the auction last year but there were no takers. I always thought that if it happens, it happens and I always wanted to play in the IPL," he said. "I don't really know what interested Mumbai. Maybe it's because I bowled well against them in the Champions League or maybe Polly [Shaun Pollock] had some influence because he knows what we as South African players can offer."
Peterson took 2 for 29 in the rained out CLT20 match in September last year. More impressively, his domestic record has improved with the 2011-12 season, his most profitable in all forms of the game. Even his batting has a renewed assertiveness about it and it is an area in which he hopes to contribute in the lower-middle order.
"I didn't change much, I am doing all the things I was doing all the time but I guess I prepare better now, I analyse the opposition better," he said. "As a spinner, you don't develop overnight. You have to have failures to learn what works. I am the kind of guy that didn't want to just give up and I know that you can achieve anything if you try for long enough." After nine years of trying, Peterson's efforts are finally paying off.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent