Sport

Cricket: Petersen takes Smith’s place for Champions Trophy

By Ant Sims 15 May 2013

Alviro Petersen has been named as the replacement for Graeme Smith in South Africa’s Champions Trophy squad. The other contenders, Quinton de Kock and Henry Davids, will have to wait a while longer to get their chance at a major tournament. By ANT SIMS.

Alviro Petersen can come across as a bit peculiar. He’s generally quite approachable, but every so often something sets him off and he turns distant. The news that he’ll be replacing Graeme Smith in South Africa’s Champions Trophy squad in June is likely to result in the former, however – and perhaps a pat on the back, as the form he finds himself in at the moment has been justly rewarded.

Smith was ruled out of the competition last week as he requires ankle surgery and will return home to South Africa to go under the knife. Petersen wasn’t even in the preliminary squad of 30, and selectors faced the tough task of deciding whether to call on the inexperience, albeit talented, Quinton de Kock or Henry Davids, or opt for the experience of Petersen, who hasn’t played an ODI for South Africa since January 2012.

Prior to that match, Petersen was in some pretty dire form. He’d last scored a half-century in 2009 and had not managed to pass more than 37 runs in seven matches. He’s in much better form these days, though, and his current stint with Somerset is proving to be quite efficient.  His form in the four-day game has been immense and he’s already notched up two hundreds and managed 495 runs in total at an average of 82.50 in three games. He’s played just a solitary limited overs match for the county, but even there he was looking in fine touch, scoring 42 off 38 batting at number four.

Familiarity with conditions – and being in good touch, plus solid experience in the absence of Smith and Jacques Kallis – made Petersen the obvious choice. It’s a like-for-like replacement, and while there were murmurs of shifting either AB de Villiers or Faf du Plessis up the order, it’s likely that Petersen will fulfil the role of opener.

For the 32-year-old, it’s an opportunity to cement a permanent spot in the South African set-up again, especially with the possibility that Smith might not return to the shorter format of the game and the “transitional phase” soon to be in full swing. While Smith will certainly recover from his injury, he might not be willing to risk a return to the shorter format in a bid to prolong his Test career. He has previously said that the captaincy is now a “series-by-series” decision.

Smith is at a crossroads in his career, and there was wide speculation that his stint with English county Surrey was a sure sign that he was thinking of settling down to something a bit less demanding, especially with the addition of a young family. While unfortunate, the injury could well-be a blessing in disguise as South Africa looks to plan for the future and make sure the transition into life-after-Kallis-and-Smith isn’t catastrophic.

At 32, Petersen still has a few years left in the tank, if he is managed properly, and building experience could help the youngsters slot into the side easily – something which has been massively successful in the Test set-up, as youngsters felt less pressured to perform and spoke of being able to ‘go out there and express themselves’.

In Smith’s absence, Petersen also offers plenty of leadership qualities. He has captained both his South African franchise, the Lions, as well as English county Glamorgan, and while it’s a far cry from skippering a side at international level, Petersen has done it all and seen it all – and his recall is by no means a knee-jerk or desperate reaction.

“We have decided on a like-for-like replacement,” commented CSA Selection Convener Andrew Hudson, “and Alviro is the obvious choice in this regard. He is a specialist opening batsman and also brings some very useful experience on board following the loss of both Smith and Jacques Kallis.

“In addition, he is in the form of his life, having made almost 500 runs in three England County Championship Division One matches for Somerset, including two centuries, at an average in the high 80s.

“With the tournament being played early in the England summer, we envisage that bowling conditions will favour the seamers, and getting good partnerships going up front is going to be paramount to success. He handled these conditions extremely well during our Test tour to England last year,” Hudson added. DM

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