SA’s Test spin unease goes on

Robin Peterson (Gallo Images)
Robin Peterson (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - For the perhaps not vast amount that it matters, Robin Peterson was effectively confirmed once more as the Proteas’ premier specialist Test spinner in the eyes of the selectors on Wednesday.

Leg-break specialist (though his wrong ‘un often seems to turns more) Imran Tahir, a bit of a yo-yo man for some time anyway, finds himself out in the cold again after being dropped from the 15-strong squad for the Test series against Australia starting at Centurion on February 12.

So as one 34-year-old makes his exit, another entrenches his position in the fold ... or does he?

The squad announcement in Johannesburg was dominated by the interest around how Andrew Hudson’s panel would compensate for the vast gap created by the retirement of stellar all-rounder Jacques Kallis.

Instead we were still largely left wondering, given the ongoing scope for several permutations in actual team composition ... and whether the Proteas will put out a spinner at all at SuperSport Park certainly seems to remain an issue on the table.

The state of flux is at least partly influenced, no doubt, by ongoing injury-rehab concerns over a handful of players which could force strategic hands.

But assuming that all 15 players are fully fit for combat in the first Test against the Baggy Greens, prevailing weather and pitch conditions at the Highveld venue nearer the time could yet sway the SA brains trust into extending the formula of deploying seven batsmen (at the same time ensuring greater post-Kallis security on that front, at least on paper) and opting to blast the Aussies with a pace/seam quartet headed by the customary threesome of Messrs Steyn, Philander and Morkel plus one other.

That additional element would most likely come from either of chosen bowling all-rounders Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell, the former more of a holding and “durability” factor and the latter sharper in pace, moodier and potentially offering greater X-factor: he also has the advantage of presenting left-arm variety to the arsenal.

Here’s something else to consider: Parnell would suitably scuff up the pitch - as will that thunderbolt leftie for the Aussies, Mitchell Johnson - for JP Duminy should the Proteas’ middle-order batsman suddenly be empowered as lone slow bowler for the home side through his off-spin.

What’s more, if South Africa do opt to genuinely load their batting, the inclusion somewhere in the order of Dean Elgar as a consequence would at least offer captain Graeme Smith the possibility of a left-arm, part-time tweaker as a minor back-up to Duminy.

Elgar is no wizard of the trade but nevertheless the sort of player you could easily entrust with a couple of darted overs before the end of a session or before a new ball is due.

Nine times out of 10, of course, Test captains do prefer to have at their disposal a specialist spinner, so Peterson’s chances of turning out at Centurion must remain pretty good.

But he is also anything but secure in his intended primary berth: it is only four Tests back (the botched first against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi) that the veteran Cape Cobras player returned 0/125 and was then sidelined for the Dubai follow-up as Tahir made an eight-wicket contribution to the equalising triumph.

Upheaval didn’t end there; the Lahore-born leggie was then swatted about unacceptably in the first Test against India at the Wanderers, providing Peterson with a lifeline; he duly bagged 4/74 in the Indian second innings as the Proteas secured the mini-series 1-0 at Kingsmead.

With 35 wickets at an average of 36.57 after 14 chequered Test appearances stretching back as far as far as May 2003, Peterson (nothing if not a determined cricketing package) will not have the Australians quaking too much about the possibility they will encounter him again.

There may be just a hint of significance, too, to the fact that the Warriors’ 24-year-old off-spinner Simon Harmer is among two players (Beuran Hendricks the other) asked to join the Proteas squad to “assist preparation” for the series.

The move will certainly have been motivated to a great extent by a logical desire to have the SA batsmen face a fair bit of his particular brand of slow bowling - Nathan Lyon will be providing offies for the Australians - in the lead-up.

But it also seems a signal that Harmer, who only in August got second-innings figures of 8/87 in a SA ‘A’ victory over their Australian counterparts at Rustenburg, is inching ever-closer to being given a crack at the highest level because Peterson isn’t exactly considered strapped in very tightly to his seat ...

Proteas Test squad:

Graeme Smith (Cape Cobras, captain), Hashim Amla (Cape Cobras), AB de Villiers (Titans), JP Duminy (Cape Cobras), Faf du Plessis (Titans), Dean Elgar (Knights), Rory Kleinveldt (Cape Cobras), Ryan McLaren (Knights), Morné Morkel (Titans), Wayne Parnell (Warriors), Alviro Petersen (Highveld Lions), Robin Peterson (Cape Cobras), Vernon Philander (Cape Cobras), Dale Steyn (Cape Cobras), Thami Tsolekile (Highveld Lions).

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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