Graeme Smith has been the one constant at the top of Proteas Test batting order for the past 10 seasons. He has had a number of opening partners, with varying degrees of success, throughout his career.
Smith had good relations with Herschelle Gibbs, before the release of Gibbs’s autobiography put their partnership under immense strain, and his fellow King Edward High School mate Neil McKenzie. He was involved in record stands, putting on over 300 runs for the first wicket with both players. Smith, in fact, shares the world record with McKenzie when the pair posted 415 against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2008.
Since McKenzie’s departure, the No2 position alongside Smith had been a bit of a poisoned chalice – until Alviro Petersen’s second coming.
Dolphins left-hander Imraan Khan was used for one game, while Ashwell Prince’s promotion up the order was always a time bomb waiting to explode.
After his return from the English County circuit, Jacques Rudolph was also experimented with, at Petersen’s expense originally, even though the former Highveld Lions captain scored a marvellous century on his Test debut against India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2010.
Petersen, though, is a determined person who was not going to be satisfied being left on the sidelines. He worked his way back into the Test side with a weight of runs, and was ready when Rudolph struck a lean patch midway through last season. Upon his return to the Test side, Petersen again struck a century against Sri Lanka in the New Year’s Test last year to ensure nobody else would be walking out with the Test skipper to start South Africa’s innings for a long while.
“I think we do complement each other well. What we have done well over the last 12 months is that when one gets out the other gets some runs. That is always good,” Petersen said. “The left-right combination is also a good thing. We understand each other’s games. We complement each other well in terms of areas we score in.
“Sometimes we take pressure off each other, against certain attacks, against certain bowlers. We obviously know each other, which makes it easier, the understanding is just there.”
The pair have compiled four partnerships of more than 100 runs – two before and two after Petersen’s return to the Test side in 2011. Their highest stand together has been 153 against Pakistan in Dubai, while they average 43.32 per innings together. Significantly, as Petersen said, they have scored heavily individually, too.
Petersen has fared better than his skipper over the past calendar year.
He has scored 921 runs, which includes four centuries and a highest score of 182, to average 51.16 over this period. Smith has 826 runs at 45.88.
“I think I am playing good cricket. I am batting well. It is always nice to get the runs on the board because ultimately that is what you get judged on. Fortunately, I have managed to do that,” he said at St George’s Park yesterday.
“It is always about taking the next step and for me the next step is always to contribute to the team and play crucial innings at crucial times.”
The right-hander’s 108 at Newlands last week against New Zealand in the first Test certainly came at a crucial time.
Somebody needed to bring a degree of normality back to proceedings after the tourists were routed for just 45, and Petersen played an innings of great maturity.
He certainly wouldn’t mind a repeat performance when the second Test gets under way tomorrow at his former home ground, St Georges’ Park.
“I was born in Port Elizabeth and I’ve always wanted to play a Test here. It’s always nice to play in front of people you know,” he said. - The Star