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Match Analysis

The promise of Jansen and Petersen to help South Africa rebuild

They have a tall and young left-arm seamer, and a batter reaching his prime to fill key roles for the future

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
It's going to take an effort that we haven't seen since Colombo 2014 or luck that last occurred in Hamilton in 2017 for South Africa to pull off a great escape or win in Centurion. Against this Indian attack on this SuperSport Park pitch, that seems unlikely. So it's to the analysis we turn.
We already know that this performance has shown South Africa the importance of starting well with the ball and has underlined the problems of inexperience in their top six but it has also shown them that in this XI, there are two relative unknowns with the potential to carve out successful careers. Marco Jansen and Keegan Petersen are part of the future and should be treated as such. In them, South Africa have a young bowler, and a batter reaching his prime to fill key roles in their rebuild.
While finding promising quicks has seldom been an issue for South Africa, finding variation sometimes has been. Beuran Hendricks is the last left-arm seamer to play for South Africa after Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe in the last decade. None of them stuck for too long but Jansen, who is quicker, could be different. At 21-years-old and having already been courted by the IPL, South Africa have to manage him carefully and his call-up to the Test squad over the last year was seen as a means of clever planning without any strong indication that he would play imminently. Until Boxing Day.
Jansen found himself in the spotlight after he was chosen ahead of Duanne Olivier, only for it to emerge that Olivier was unavailable for selection because of a hamstring niggle and the lingering effects from Covid-19. Confirmation on the reasons for Olivier's omission, which came as a surprise given he is the leading wicket-taker in the first-class competition this season, only came from CSA's selection convenor on day two, after South Africa conceded 272 runs and took just three wickets on the opening day. Jansen bowled 17 overs and finished with 0 for 61 on the day, including an opening over which cost 12.
In the absence of any clear information on Olivier's absence until then, comparisons were being made between Jansen's performance and what Olivier could have offered. Those were unfair, because Jansen was not preferred over Olivier but was necessitated to play. ESPNcricinfo has learnt that the team management was concerned about the impact of early and harsh critique on Jansen but once the selection debacle was cleared up, they needn't really have been. As Kagiso Rabada said, Jansen went on to "justify his selection" in the last two days.
It was in India's second innings that Jansen came into his own. He took a wicket with his first ball, which angled across Mayank Agarwal to take an edge, consistently bowled around 140kmph, exploited the uneven bounce with good use of the short ball. He dismissed the man he had impressed at the Wanderers nets almost four years ago as a teenager, Virat Kohli, had Ajinkya Rahane caught, who was unable to control the hook from chest height, and finished the Indian second innings with the perfect ball to a tail-ender.
"He is a phenomenal talent as everyone has now seen," Rabada said. "He is an awkward customer to face. He is tall and he's got pace and he can swing the ball as well so there's swing, bounce and pace coming at you. And he seems like he wants to learn. He is a hard worker. He is really keen on doing well for this team and for himself."
That's the kind of player South Africa want to nurture and they must not make the same mistake they did with another young quick, Lutho Sipamla. At this same ground, Sipamla debuted a year ago and his first 10 overs in Test cricket cost 66 runs as questions about his readiness abounded. He went on to take 10 for 101 in the rest of the series against Sri Lanka, but has not played since.
Despite being South Africa A's leading bowler against India A and with good domestic returns this season, Sipamla is not even in the 21-player squad to face India and there has been no explanation why. Earlier this summer he told ESPNcricinfo that he understood there is a pecking order and he needs to bide his time but he considers himself part of the system, a system in which Jansen has now leapfrogged him. But Jansen could face similar uncertainty.
Olivier is expected to be fit for the Wanderers Test, where he has taken 24 out of his 28 wickets this season, and has to come back into contention. Unless South Africa go all pace, that may mean Jansen has to make way and it will seem harsh. But South Africa have five more Tests scheduled this summer and a winter tour to England and they should stick with Jansen for some of that.
Whether Petersen will get a similar run remains to be seen, but there is a strong case to be made that he should. After first being selected in the squad in the 2019-20 summer, Petersen waited 18 months for his debut in the West Indies in June and has just played his first Test at home. Early impressions of him are that he looks like a million dollars. He is elegant on the flick and the drive, authoritative on the cut and though we didn't get to see it in this Test, he has got the footwork to play spin according to his domestic coach Imraan Khan
Despite his lack of significant runs, only good things have been said about Petersen so far. South Africa's former analyst Prasanna Agoram said Petersen should be "permanent No.3" irrespective of his returns in the next 10 Tests while Ian Bishop called Petersen's technique "pleasing" and predicted "a couple of Test hundreds" from him "in the appropriate conditions."
Bishop may mean a less challenging surface than SuperSport Park's, but his observation also points to the circumstances in which Petersen has come in to bat. In his five innings, he has been required with the scores on 0, 1, 4, 2 and 1. That's a problem for South Africa's opening pair to solve.
And it's one of several problems that South Africa will have to confront, whatever happens on the final day of this Test. For now, they're just keeping the faith.
"We're going to have to show belief. Every sportsman has to believe that they can win from any position," Rabada said.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent