Johannesburg – Back in February 2010, Alviro Petersen made a century on his Test debut at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It was an incredible effort in difficult circumstances as all the South African batsmen, bar he and Hashim Amla, had failed to cope with a disciplined Indian attack.
Asked afterwards if he wanted to dedicate the landmark to anyone, Petersen replied without blinking: “Yes, I’d like to dedicate this hundred to myself. I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to this point, so I’d say I’ll dedicate this hundred to me.”
While some of the gathered media chuckled, Petersen looked on – he was being dead serious.
Petersen is, as someone explained this week, a “complex guy”. Not everyone “gets” him, which has led to accusations that he’s a divisive character. In the Highveld Lions dressing room he is respected, but there isn’t the same level of affection for him among teammates as there is for, say, Neil McKenzie. Put it this way: Most of the Lions players are more likely to charge through a brick wall for Neil than they would be for Alviro.
The incredible drama that has unfolded in the Lions camp over the past few weeks has left Petersen’s future there hanging in the balance.
There may have been some support for him from teammates and even the coaching staff, but the lack of conclusive proof for his allegation that Hussein Manack, the selection convener, was interfering in aspects of the team, including team strategies, has left Petersen in a vulnerable position.
Beyond just the circumstances at the Lions, there’s the fact that Petersen, a nationally contracted player, has accused a member of the national selection panel – Manack – of over-reaching in his obligations. It is understood that some of the hierarchy at Cricket South Africa had to remind Petersen this week of the organisation’s communication protocols.
There is a view in the Lions camp that the atmosphere in the team is a lot less tense when Petersen is not around. Many point to the 2011/12 campaign in the domestic T20 competition as an example of Petersen’s presence in the final severely hindering the Lions’s chances against the Titans that season.
Petersen had just returned from New Zealand, fresh off a century in the third Test in Wellington, to take over the reins for the Lions’ home final against the Titans. The Lions had won seven of 12 matches in the league phase and looked a settled and happy unit, until they had to accommodate Petersen.
At the end of that match, in which he captained poorly and didn’t bat much better, he cut a lonely figure as the rest of the team tried to mask their disappointment with a few refreshments. It didn’t take long for teammates to throw the blame for the defeat straight at him – not, mind you, to his face, but whispering it among themselves or to others who would listen.
Petersen was very close to former Lions head coach Dave Nosworthy – the pair had worked together at the Titans, before both moved south of the Jukskei to assist in turning around the fortunes of a franchise that had made little impression on the domestic scene. Nosworthy provided the structure and Petersen carried out his plans on the field. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but given the history of the Lions, no one was going to argue.
Success in terms of trophies didn’t come, something that left Nosworthy bitterly disappointed. He moved to England to take up a position as director of cricket at Somerset and Petersen soon got a contract there.
Meanwhile, there was a relaxation of the intense environment in the Lions changeroom when Nosworthy’s assistant, Geoffrey Toyana, was promoted to head coach. And with that loosening of the shackles came success for the Lions – first in the shape of a stunning run to the final of the lucrative Champions League T20, then a share of the Momentum One-Day Cup with the Cape Cobras, finishing second in the Sunfoil Series, then winning the RamSlam T20 Challenge to cap an outstanding 2012/13 season.
Unlike 2011/12, Petersen had more of a role – though he played just two matches in the Momentum Cup, he was involved in seven matches in the T20. He also captained the Lions throughout the run to the final in the Champions League.
Therein is an indication of the value he can provide when everyone’s roles are clearly defined.
Manack playing the victim in all that emerged last week is somewhat disingenuous, too. Labelled “power hungry”, he is another for whom there is little affection within Lions circles.
“We all know how Hussein can be. He’s involved everywhere (in Gauteng cricket) and not everyone likes that,” said one official.
It all makes for a very tense atmosphere in the franchise at the moment, one which the Gauteng Cricket Board’s new chief executive, Greg Fredericks, is desperate to paper over.
There is, and always has been, far too much politicking at play in the province’s cricket, from in-fighting among clubs to drastic changes at board level.
Sadly, all those politics mask whatever work is being done to make cricket better in Gauteng.
Until that changes, it’s only a matter of time before another episode like this most recent one with Petersen unfolds once more.
The Lions and Gauteng cricket desperately need to move away from petty politics and just get on with playing cricket.