Sport

Robin Peterson – the man who never stopped smiling

By Ant Sims 7 January 2013

Robin Peterson has been in and out of the South African set-up for a while, but he seems to have finally found his niche. He’s a crafty spinner who can fox batsmen with the most ordinary of deliveries: a stock slower ball. He’s not too bad with the bat either. ANT SIMS spoke to him before the Newlands Test to find out what’s it like to be back.

Robin Peterson really should be grumpy. Grumpy because he’s spent the last hour in the hot Cape Town sun with music blaring and a whole bunch of people scampering for his autograph and a photo. Grumpy because on a day like today, surely he would rather be on the beach after a four-hour training session. Grumpy because instead of having journalists poke recorders at his face, he would rather be going back home to relax. Grumpy because his see-saw journey in and out of the South African team seems to have been quite annoying. 

But he’s not. Instead he smiles and greets everybody politely, and while this fumbling reporter shoves a cellphone moonlighting as a Dictaphone into his face, he calmly takes it, holds it his bowling hand and speaks into it, just like he has been trained to do. Like it’s nothing. Just like his foray back into the national set-up has seemed completely effortless. 

It’s a blazing hot day in Cape Town, and Peterson has been ushered to the back of the open-air Amphitheatre at the Cape Town V&A Waterfront after an autograph signing session where screaming babies were shoved onto his lap and every second person made him get up to snap a picture. He’s still smiling. He never seems to stop smiling. 

It’s a few days until he is due to return to the South African Test team on his current home turf. Originally form the Eastern Cape, he’s spent the last few years representing the Cobras. He’s never played a Test there and he nods enthusiastically when asked whether it’s just a bit more special with the breeze of the brewery drifting over the pitch while the hum from the inebriated crowd under The Oaks echoes through the air.

“I never even thought I’d have the opportunity to play in a New Year’s Test. I definitely have some butterflies,” Peterson told The Daily Maverick a few days before the Test.

He made his debut against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2003. He scored 61 and took five wickets. Then he started to fade in the Test arena somewhat. He returned briefly in 2008 and then didn’t play again for South Africa for a few years. He even went so far as to almost give up on national honours when he made himself unavailable for national selection and went to Derbyshire as a Kolpak player in 2010. He took 51 wickets in 15 matches in that county season, and he was ushered back into the South African team for the 2011 World Cup in India.

And now he’s back in the Test set-up, too. He returned against Australia in Perth in 2012, scoring 31 and picking up six wickets. How on earth does it feel to be back? And to be back like that? 

“I’ve been around the group for a few Test tours now, but it was just so exciting and fun to be back playing Test cricket again. I’m not a stranger to being around the guys, but to get out on the park and help the team win a series, it was awesome,” Peterson says. 

Peterson is no mug with the bat. It was he who scored the winning runs for South Africa in a World Cup match in 2011 to help the Proteas clinch a one-wicket win over Sri Lanka. Does he see himself as an all-rounder? 

“My aim is to get a Test hundred at some point. Batting low down is really important; if the team is in trouble you have to step up and help save that situation. When the team is on the front foot, you have to go out there and score quick runs. My batting is always important to me,” Peterson muses.

His energy doesn’t know any bounds. He’s a Jack-in-the-box, always ready to pounce, and even if you expect the zing of the puppet when you open the lid, it always takes you by surprise. After doing it for so many years, you’d think he’d have gotten tired by now. 

“I’m supposed to have fun out there. Playing cricket is something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a kid. I don’t think having fun should change just because you’re playing Test cricket. In fact, you should probably enjoy it more. I love playing with this group; they’re good guys and they all have a good sense of humour,” the all-rounder says. 

His first priority is, of course, his bowling. The craft of spin bowling takes a lot of flak. If actions aren’t under scrutiny, they often get smacked out the park when they run into a frenzied top-order batsman in form. Some say the art is dying, but Peterson knows how understated the role is in Test cricket.

“Every time somebody says spin bowling is a dying art, somebody in world cricket steps up and spins a team to victory. I don’t think it’s dying; in Test cricket, a team will always rely on their spinner at some point.”

He didn’t play much part in the Test at Newlands. South Africa hammered New Zealand inside three days after bowling the visitors out for 45 in their first innings. But Peterson might play a big role in Port Elizabeth, where the wicket is slower and lower. If he can exploit the conditions as well as the low morale of the Black Caps, he could very well end up being South Africa’s star player in the match. But even if he doesn’t, there’s no doubt he’ll still be smiling. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Robin Peterson bowls during a practice session ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against Zimbabwe in Hambantota. September 19, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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