Robin Peterson walked into the Proteas media conference on Tuesday with a smile as wide as the Boardwalk Casino. He stopped to personally greet every member of the press contingent, even copping some chirps from local hacks who had played against him earlier in his career.
“Yeah, I was young and I just kept tossing it up and he just kept smashing me. He hit for me three sixes in a row,” Peterson quipped. But Peterson was still smiling. Although the left-arm spinner plays his franchise cricket in Cape Town for the Cape Cobras now, he is as at heart still a Port Elizabeth boy. And he was happy to be back home and preparing to play his first Test at St George’s Park, starting on Friday, against New Zealand.
“It feels great actually to be back in Port Elizabeth. To play two Tests - at my adopted home, Newlands last week and then to be where it all started here at St George’s. I’ve really come full circle,” the 33-year-old said.
All the dots of the circle haven’t always connected for Peterson. He’s been on the international circuit for the best part of the last decade, but yet has only played eight Tests in that period. There have been a variety of reasons for Peterson’s career being on ice for so long: immaturity, lack of form but mostly inconsistent selection.
Due to these circumstances, Peterson sought a change of scenery. Not only did he move down the coast to Newlands, but also took himself out of his comfort zone by opting for a two-year contract with English County Championship outfit Derbybshire. Since his return, Peterson has been far removed from the cricketer who once threw in his shirt to St George’s Park band in celebration, only to request it back after the result of the match had not yet been decided.
It has shown in his performances too, with him not only occupying the spinner’s role in the Test side now, but has also been a stalwart in the one-day and T20 sides, especially since his stellar performance at the 2015 World Cup.
“I like to think I’m a lot mature than that now,” Peterson explained. “I’ve done alright over the last two years, since coming back from country cricket. Every game is an opportunity for me to do well. I don’t like to look further than that.
“I take it one game at a time. You can get caught up in other things when you look too far ahead. It’s really nice to be part of a group that has been so successful over the past year,” he said.
Peterson certainly has grasped his opportunities over the past 12 months. When Tahir was discarded after his horror show in the second Test against Australia in Adelaide last year, he came in and claimed six wickets in the series-decider the following week in Perth. He has similar faith that his Cobras teammate Rory Kleinveldt will produce the goods this week after star opening bowler Vernon Philander was ruled of the Test yesterday.
The Proteas team management have opted not to risk the World No 2 bowler after he sustained a recurrence of the hamstring injury that cast doubt on his participation in the first Test already.
“Maybe I’ll get to bowl in the first innings,” Peterson joked in reference to Philander claiming five wickets for seven runs in New Zealand’s first innings last week.
“It is obviously a huge blow. Vern has obviously been a stalwart in the Test side now. His performances speak for themselves. He is a critical part of the bowling unit. But saying that, Rory stepped up to the plate when his opportunities presented itself. So, Rory is capable of doing a job Vernon has been doing.”
It’s unlikely that the Black Caps will capitulate like they did in their first innings at Newlands, especially in Philander’s absence, which could leave Peterson with probably an important role in the tourists’ second innings. The Proteas couldn’t have asked for a better man to do the job here in his home town. Cape Argus