Petersen proves himself again

Alviro Petersen removed some of the pressure that had been heaped on him from without by focusing on his own game at Headingley

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Alviro Petersen reaches his fourth Test hundred, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day, August 2, 2012

Alviro Petersen delivered under pressure once again  •  AFP

One name has dominated the post mortems at Headingley: Pietersen. Not Petersen.
Although the latter scored more runs than the former, his was not as fierce, in style or in message. Kevin Pietersen may not be playing for England much longer, although that has little to do with the runs he posted at Leeds, but Alviro Petersen took a big step to cementing his place in the South Africa XI and it had everything to do with his innings.
Petersen's 182 came in tough circumstances after South Africa were asked to bat against a four-pronged pace attack and under skies that can become cloudy as quickly as Pietersen changes his mind. After totalling just 42 runs in the four innings on tour before the match, including a duck at The Oval, Petersen was under pressure from outside and owed something to himself.
As he had done in Kolkata, Cape Town and Wellington, he delivered again. This time he exceeded those previous occasions and showed why he had never stopped belonging in international cricket, despite what was being said.
Ask any one of South Africa's team management - and the answer they give may sound rehearsed because it is something they feel compelled to say - and they will tell you Petersen was never in danger of losing his place. Allan Donald went as far as to say that Petersen was "not far away from putting it all together" after he made two low scores, of 10 and 11, against Worcestershire.
Ask many outside that circle and they will say Petersen was on the edge and had to haul himself back before he fell off.
Ask Petersen himself and the answer you get is philosophical but defiant. "I feel under pressure in every game," he said. Why? "Because I am always one innings away from the media getting on my case."
At times, Petersen has been dealt an unfair hand and this was probably one of those times. Having scored an impressive hundred against New Zealand just two Tests before Headingley, he should not have been under scrutiny. Why he was is a combination of being one of the newer players, being the least known of the top five and having had a lean tour, despite only one bad Test.
He must have known that expectation changes and grows in every series a cricketer plays in. He handled it by looking inward before looking out and it paid off. "Even though I hadn't spent a lot of time in the middle, in the nets I had really worked hard," he said. "I felt really good about my batting. I didn't even practice the day before because I felt like I was in a good space. It was all about mental stuff."
For one of the most junior members of the side to be allowed to miss a training session is a sign that Gary Kirsten has placed the responsibility on the players to decide how best to ready themselves for a match. Petersen chose to strategise instead of hit more balls and in so doing, came up with his own set of tactics.
Although he played a missed at a large number of deliveries, he did not let that distract him. "It was always a case of getting through that and focusing on the next ball. You are going to play and miss," he said. "I knew I had a gameplan and I had to stick to that."
Withstanding and counterattacking were the main tenets of Petersen's innings against an England attack that he felt had also done their homework. "They had different plans for us this time around. I worked that out up front. They were always there and thereabouts. They didn't give us a lot at all, but when they did we capitalised," he said.
During his almost nine-hour stint at the crease, Petersen strained his hamstring and could not field. He is expected to recover in time for the Lord's Test and said the injury will not affect his preparations. "I can still bat, it's just about the running," he said.
A tightly contested drawn second Test has made it difficult to decide who has the mental edge going into the final match. South Africa's 1-0 lead in the series gives them the overall advantage and Petersen is hopeful they can make it count.
"Lord's is a place you can gear yourself up to play at and we've got good memories of Lord's" he said. South Africa have won three and drawn one of the four matches they have played there since readmission. "I still don't think there is a lot in it. Most of our batters have scored some runs. Some of them might have wanted to score some more. It will come down to one or two sessions once more."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent