Robin Peterson was an unremarkable, unfortunate cricketer, a left-arm spinner in South Africa's golden era of quicks, with a first-class batting average of 24.69 and a bowling average of 33.28. Swap those numbers and he still wouldn't be among the first picks in your team. He didn't have a cool hairstyle or a sleeve tattoo either, so if he has faded into obscurity in your memory, it wouldn't be surprising. However, Peterson is trying to work his way back in, albeit in a completely different role.

Like many other retirees, he has taken up coaching, but his is an unconventional approach: he is in the middle of acquiring a Masters in Sports Directorship from Manchester Metropolitan University. The degree is both shaping and being shaped by his work on the ground, in change rooms around the world.

"It's about how you manage people, so the degree goes hand in hand with what I am doing now," Peterson said during his first match as interim coach of the Warriors, against the Cobras at Newlands. "You need to understand people to understand what's going on in their heads before you can understand what they deliver.

"Sometimes it's not cricket that makes a cricketer. It's a lot of other things - expectation, how do I train, is fitness really that important? These types of questions that might not have anything to do with seeing numbers on the board but leads up to that point of taking wickets and scoring runs."

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And so Peterson thinks mentorship, rather than technical expertise, ought to be a priority for South African cricket as it navigates its way through a transition phase made trickier by a talent drain. He says it's not only the retirements of Dale Steyn from Tests and Hashim Amla from all formats that has changed the complexion of the current national side, but the reality that players who were expected to step into their shoes opted out even before Steyn and Amla made their exits.

"We've lost a tier of players that probably would have graduated and played for South Africa for a long time," Peterson said, referring to Kyle Abbott, Duanne Olivier, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl and others who have chosen Kolpak contracts in the last two years.

"Now we are getting guys that are maybe a year or two out from being the players we would like them to be already. You need the experienced players back in the system, people that have been there and can accelerate their learning a little bit. I always found value in that."

Peterson is not the only person calling for old hands. On his return from the recent series loss in India, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis lamented the lack of experience in the domestic system. But then du Plessis himself did not play in the only round of four-day cricket he was available for.

Peterson wants that attitude to change and has called on Cricket South Africa to prioritise the domestic game in order produce quality cricketers.

"I'd like to know how many guys playing for the Proteas have won four-day matches for their franchises. How many were the guys that got the match-winning hundred, for example," Peterson said. "I remember playing against Hashim Amla in his first season - the Dolphins chased down 280 and he was 120 not out."

Although it was more than 15 years ago, Peterson's memory of that match is fairly accurate. He was playing for the Warriors, in a team that included Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini, against a Dolphins side featuring Lance Klusener and Amla, who scored 115 in a successful chase of 292. That performance helped Amla get a call-up to the Test side a month later. He played three Tests and then returned to help the Dolphins win the title (shared with the Eagles) that season, scoring 707 runs in nine games at 54.38, including two other hundreds.

And Amla wasn't the only player making a big impression at the time. "AB de Villiers also won games for the Titans, and even though we are talking about two special players now, all players need to graduate in their systems to this level, then win games at this level and bridge that gap and move to South Africa A, win games there and contribute," Peterson said. "I don't know if that's happening at the moment. There is a process. We need to get back to that."

Currently South Africa's Test players are rarely available for first-class matches, and even when they are, the selection criteria, heavily based on transformation targets, mean not all of them can play.

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The Titans, for example, could have theoretically fielded du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, and Heinrich Klaasen (and Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram, if they hadn't been injured) in the match against the Knights last month in Bloemfontein, but all five players are white, and picking them would have required a complete rejig of the team. As it turned out, only Klaasen played. de Kock has not played a first-class game for the Titans since September 2017 and du Plessis has played only one more match since. Du Plessis, who is a proven match-winner (or, you could argue, match-saver) is not around to set an example for the next generation, and de Kock, who is among the most experienced of the current Test line-up, does not have a track record of winning matches at first-class level.

Then there's the other problem of promising players being pushed up prematurely to a level they are not ready to step up to. "I am not a fan of picking guys from Under-19 to go straight through to South Africa A or higher. I believe they need to learn their trade here at franchise level," Peterson said.

An example is fast bowler Lungi Ngidi, who played only nine first-class games - only four at the franchise level - before making his Test debut.

That's why Peterson wants to be particularly careful with the young players under his watch, specifically a trio identified as part of the next generation. Batsmen Matthew Breetzke (21 first-class matches) and Sinethemba Qeshile (17), who also keeps wicket, and fast bowler Lutho Sipamla (24) are all from South Africa's U-19 set-up and are being primed for higher honours. Peterson, who worked with them at age-group level, was careful not to talk them up too much, speaking instead of what they need to do next.

"They are good players but they've still got a lot to learn," he said. "It's Qeshile's second season now and he's got a bit of runs, but it hasn't quite gone his way, so he needs to learn to deal with failure and to be a little bit resilient too. That's what's makes you as a cricketer. You get dropped, you come back - these are skills you need to acquire if you are going to be successful.

"Breetzke is a real talent. If you watch him in the nets, you'd think he is already playing international cricket, but he needs time. Sipamla has all the tools. He will develop as he gets a bit stronger and understands how to bowl in different conditions."

Peterson got Amla to attend a net session to talk to Breetzke and Sipamla, and got the youngsters to face some of the Warriors bowlers, so he could provide them with feedback. Over the course of the summer, Peterson intends to get other former players involved, including Ntini, Mfuneko Ngam and Meyrick Pringle, who are all based in the Eastern Cape, like the Warriors.

Doesn't Peterson want to see South Africa shed their spinner-averse reputation and produce a player who will be remembered more than himself was? He believes South Africa are well on their way to doing so, provided they don't continue to negate left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj on seamer-friendly surfaces and start searching for his successor right away.

"Playing last season on so many green wickets, and Maharaj not getting an opportunity - that had an impact on his career. It affects you. Nathan Lyon went through the same thing. He got dropped and Australia were looking at Ashton Agar. Then they went back to Lyon, because they realised 'We need to invest in this guy', and now they are reaping the rewards. We can't just chop and change and chop and change. We know Keshav is the guy. Now we need to see who's next in line and work with him."

Peterson even thinks that spinner could be someone like offspinner Dane Piedt, who had a woeful tour of India, or allrounder Senuran Muthusamy, who was more impressive with bat than ball in the series.

"You can't just throw them away, because they are the best in the country at the moment. You've got to develop them. They've got to play. The only way you can get better and learn is by going through a bit of pain as a spinner. You get smashed, then you come up with plans and you try and get better and then people get used to you again and then you get smashed and then you come back a better bowler."

If there's anyone who understands that journey, it's Peterson.