Keegan Petersen emerged as the find of a series against India that was filled with positives. This Proteas team has the potential to be among Test cricket’s elite, writes RYAN VREDE.
Watching Petersen play Test cricket is a joy. His talent is immense and is expressed through an economy of movement at the crease, a penchant for letting the ball come to him instead of searching for it as many Test rookies do, and a range of strokes that allows him to score all around the ground.
Yet, talent is nothing without temperament. Temperament allows talent to soar. Petersen has exhibited that he has both these qualities in abundance.
In his short career, Petersen has walked to the crease at 0, 2, 4, 1, 14, 47, 10 and 23. Six of those eight innings have come against India, who are the world’s top-ranked Test side, with three of their bowlers ranked in the top 20. That he has scored three half-centuries in his last four innings against this side, and on tracks that demanded incredible depths of concentration, speaks to the calibre of cricketer the Proteas now have.
He has had to wait on this chance. The position he now occupies only became available after Faf du Plessis’ retirement last year. Privately, Petersen would have been frustrated. He has, after all, been among the most consistent performers in domestic cricket for five years. But there has clearly been value in a prolonged apprenticeship and his attitude during that period was, by all reports, in keeping with a player who values the collective over the individual.
He finished as the series’ leading run-scorer. This, remember, was a series featuring Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Cheteshwa Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Dean Elgar. These players have years on Petersen, but couldn’t match his potency.
It’s easy to peddle the line that a star has been born. Nobody can be certain of this. Test cricket is a brutal existence. Teams will dissect his technique and develop avenues of attack that will be unfamiliar and uncomfortable for the 28-year-old. They will succeed and, at this point, Petersen will have to find a mental and technical rebuttal that allows him to build a long Test career. This is the defining quality of the greats.
Petersen is some way off that point. We can only appraise the present, and the present holds much promise.
Petersen has embodied everything that’s been good about the Proteas in this series – patient, smart, skilful, resolute, prepared, resilient, aggressive when required, opportunistic and brave.
This is a team that had failed dismally in every series against elite opposition (England and Pakistan) and one that lacked any discernable identity.
This was a team that, after a 113-run defeat in the first series, most, including me, thought would lose the series comfortably. There was nothing in that performance in Centurion that hinted at the potential for a rebound of this nature.
I was wrong and underestimated this team and its coaching staff. I’ve never been happier to have an opinion embarrassed.
There will be stern tests ahead. They travel to face world champions New Zealand in two Tests in February, and they have a three-Test series in England in August and September, followed by a three-Test series against Australia to conclude 2022. It is an unforgiving schedule, but what lies ahead shouldn’t detract from this incredible achievement.
The last two Tests confirmed what most astute observers already knew – that this Proteas side is incredibly gifted. Certainly better than their record under head coach Mark Boucher reflects. They’ve betrayed their gift, but it appears that they’ve addressed many of their most glaring shortcomings.
Now they’ve beaten the world’s top-ranked Test team. This could be the start of something beautiful.