Give Alviro a fair crack

2012-03-24 00:00

OPENERS are cricket’s equivalent of police. They have to face criminals armed with new Kookaburras who are looking to blast them out. They are often on the receiving end of the worst batting conditions, which is why Alviro Petersen must be given time to prove his worth.

Opening the batting in Test cricket is a thankless and often unenviable task, and in some Test countries, openers are rotated like turnstiles. Cricket is littered with examples of teams who have struggled to replace great opening partnerships.

The West Indies have yet to replace Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes even though they retired an age ago, while it will take another generation for Australia to find a pair that will match Matthew Hayden’s and Justin Langer’s exploits.

Opening requires specialists who are dedicated to the dark art and are willing to weather the new ball storm. Ashwell Prince knows it all too well, when his accomplished defensive technique was expertly dissected by England’s bowling attack during the 2009/10 Basil d’Oliveira series.

This brings us to Petersen’s case, the opener who plied his trade with the Titans before swimming down the Jukskei and joined the Lions. A consistent scorer in first-class cricket, along with Prince’s failed experiment, opened the door for him. A century on Test debut against India at the Eden Gardens, which was preceded by solid showings in an unaccustomed role of a middle order batsman, showed a look of class from a hard-working batsman. However, the game is unremitting and unrelenting, so a few failures tend to plaster over a cluster of successful moments. A Test batting average of 34 seems to suggest a middling batsman who gets starts, yet fails to convert them into the platform-laying big scores that South Africa’s talented middle-order can feed on.

Having proved himself in first-class cricket, Petersen has to be given the chance to cement his position and use the opportunities given to him. He was unfairly dropped from the Test team ahead of the Australian Test series, having not done much to justify removal.

However, he just went back to the domestic and piled on the runs, including that majestic century against Australia for South Africa A on a difficult track in Potchefstroom. Jacques Rudolph, himself a first-class wanderer who trod the same path as Petersen, warranted his selection through weight of runs, but he also found the task of opening too big to chew.

With the all-important, yet short England tour coming up, it will be a golden opportunity for Petersen to shore up his place in the team. Like Rudolph, he did the county cricket hard yards and came back a complete batsman.

The England attack, currently pound-for-pound the best attack going around in world cricket, will test him fully. England has never been kind to ill-equipped openers.

In 1998, Free State opening batsman Gerhardus Liebenberg was reduced to a walking wicket, which handicapped a young Jacques Kallis at number three.

The England attack, under David Saker’s capable stewardship, will exploit any weaknesses Petersen might harbour, irrespective of pitch and overhead conditions. They carried their team during the 3-0 loss against Pakistan and they have yet to concede more than 400 runs in an innings since the opening Ashes Test against Australia in Brisbane in 2010.

County experience may prove handy, but Test cricket is a different kettle of fish. The game is littered with examples of excellent county players who could not adjust to life at the highest level.

The criticism, especially from the New Zealand commentators, has been rather unfair on him. New Zealand, at best, is a middleweight side who will punch above their weight every now and then.

Runs against small teams enhance CV’s, but it is the runs made against best that separate the grain from the chaff.

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