Alviro Petersen marked his return to county cricket with two splendid innings last week, and the South African opener reckons the competition is as close to Test cricket as it gets – a fine compliment for a competition which is supposedly dying. By ANT SIMS.
Alviro Petersen barely had time to savour the Lions winning the domestic T20 before he was carted off on a plane to England to join his county for the season. He missed Somerset’s first match owing to a number of fitness obligations with Cricket South Africa, but he was in action last week against Surrey. And he got his season off to a cracking start, scoring 167 and 91 in his first outing.
The match was of high interest because it was also South African skipper Graeme Smith’s first match in charge of Surrey. While the two players are normally next to each other in the slips, they were at opposite ends of the coin last week, something Petersen admits makes for an interesting dynamic.
“Normally I’m standing next to him in the slips and now I hear him from the slips, chatting away while I’m batting. It’s a different dynamic, but we’re professionals and we both have different tasks to focus on. The respect for each other is still there,” Petersen said.
“At one stage he was telling me I’d gotten enough runs and it was time to get out, but it was just banter. He’s a good guy and a good leader and I think Surrey will do well under him.”
A lot has been made of county cricket in the last few weeks, as entitled purists slog it out with those who prefer a bit of cricket of the colourful variety. Petersen is no mug in brightly coloured outfits, but the South African opener says the county game is a different kettle of fish entirely, the kind of cricket that comes as close to Test cricket in the domestic format as one can get.
“I enjoy county cricket; it’s a different brand of cricket completely. You play quite a lot and if there was a domestic competition you could compare to Test cricket to a certain extent, county cricket would be it. There’s only a couple of days to prepare for each game and you have to be mentally up for it, so it helps me prepare,” Petersen added.
Crowd numbers have made for a hot talking point in South Africa, with interest in the sport generally being judged on how many fans flock to stadiums. County cricket, similarly, is often measured by crowd numbers, and while attendance is sparse compared to Test matches, the crowds at county cricket are often impressive – and much larger than what South African domestic players are used to.
“It was strange the first season to see all the people. When you play a four-day game in South Africa, you see maybe 20 people there, and 17 of those are family members. There are thousands of people here at the game and I suppose it’s just the way people enjoy cricket over here,” Petersen said.
The opening batsman believes that this is due to South Africa’s audience for cricket being slightly different. The party atmosphere at cricket grounds in his home country often takes over from actually watching cricket, he says.
“I think there’s also a different market for cricket in South Africa. There are so many kids and youngsters watching cricket, whereas in England, it’s the older people who come to the games. In South Africa you also get the girls in bikinis and all sorts when the white ball comes out,” he added.
Petersen, who has played 24 Tests for South Africa, and is now 32 years old, also hinted that he might one day follow the trend of players who opt for the Kolpak route. While he is still contracted to South Africa at the moment, Kolpak players have opportunity to have a comfortable retirement still playing cricket. Players like Alfonso Thomas and Ashwell Prince have both gone that route.
“I won’t rule out the possibility of becoming a Kolpak player eventually. It’s premature to make those sorts of calls now, but it’s all about finding the right county and making sure I stick with a county I’m comfortable with. At this stage, I am still contracted to CSA, and that’s where my focus will be when it comes to international cricket,” Petersen said.
That contract involves a Test series against Pakistan later this year, and while Petersen will be in action for his South African franchise in the Champions League, his opportunities to play until that series, expected to take place in the last quarter of the year, are pretty slim. South Africa had a full tour scheduled against Sri Lanka, but the Test portion of that tour had been curtailed and postponed. Being in action in the county game gives players like Petersen the chance to stay on top of their game and keep their form in good nick.
“It’s definitely a way for me to keep topping up playing cricket, and I wanted to make sure that I got some games under my belt and some time out in the middle before the series against Pakistan later this year,” he added.
He’s also currently working alongside Dave Nosworthy, the former Lions coach who is now director of cricket at Somerset. The two know each other well from Nosworthy’s days at the Lions, and the pair will share some valuable time together at the county in the coming summer. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Alviro Petersen hits a boundary off the bowling of Australia’s Mitchell Starc during the first day’s play of the third cricket test match, at the WACA in Perth November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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