Cricket: England v South Africa

Performance of The Day: Alviro Petersen

The 'ugly duckling' of the South African line-up showed his mettle and his value to his team

Performance of The Day: Alviro Petersen

Alviro Petersen (124*) is supposed to be the weak link in the South African batting line-up. At The Oval, he was the forgotten man, bagging a duck while the three batsmen around him compiled huge scores.

At least he made a crucial contribution in that game to an arcane, but telling cricketing statistic. South Africa’s 637-2 was the highest score ever made in Test cricket without any batsmen scoring double figures.

But Petersen won’t cherish the fact and it’s safe to say that he was not the player foremost in England minds coming into this game. He had made 42 runs on tour so far and earlier this season, he averaged 21 in 11 innings for Essex.

But Petersen was the rock on which South Africa built a strong position on the first day. His fourth Test hundred in his 16th Test match was a dogged effort on a slowish Headingley pitch. There were few shots that caught the eye. But his patience and determination matched Graeme Smith’s during his hundred at The Oval.

Petersen dominated the strike in the morning session, bearing the brunt of James Anderson’s testing opening spell. The Lancastrian found a lovely shape to his outswingers, but Petersen’s judgment of line was excellent and he let ball after ball pass by outside off stump. Stuart Broad was far less testing and Petersen picked him off for boundaries.

Meanwhile, South African captain Graeme Smith leaned on his bat at the non-striker’s end. Smith faced just four balls in the first six overs as Petersen kept pinching the strike. It was as though he wanted to give his captain a rest after his return flights to see his newborn baby in South Africa.

Only at one point in his long innings did Petersen lose composure. In Anderson’s sixth over, the bowler found the perfect line for his outswing and Petersen nicked the second ball through the vacant fourth slip region. Then, clearly rattled, he essayed a booming drive two balls later and was nearly bowled.  

Next ball, on 29 - he edged Anderson straight to second slip where Alastair Cook spilled a straightforward catch. The normal second slipper, Graeme Swann, would have pouched it.

Petersen’s fifty came in 75 balls and at lunch he had made 59 out of South Africa’s 84-0. Then in the afternoon, he almost ground to a halt, scoring just 17 runs in the session. But, paradoxically, this was the most impressive part of his innings.

Petersen sensed conditions had changed. With clouds moving across the ground and Headingley’s skies glowering, the bowlers had cheered up and became more threatening,

So, Petersen defended grimly, hardly playing a shot in anger until after tea when the sun emerged again to lighten his mood.

Petersen was overshadowed by the regal strokeplay of two of the world’s greatest batsmen. Jacques Kallis made only 19, but he played some wonderful shots including an on drive off Bresnan with such an exquisitely straight bat that it will live in the memory. And after tea, De Villers (47) dazzled with some gorgeous cover drives and cut shots.

Petersen was more prosaic but he outlasted them to score a vital hundred. In the final over of the day, a revitalised Stuart Broad armed with the new ball beat Petersen with there consecutive balls. But it was Petersen’s day and he survived to try to add more runs in the morning.