PORT ELIZABETH — A fish out of water eventually calms down, but thrashes about wildly once again shortly before it expires.
Some cricketers’ careers follow a similar course.
Robin Peterson made his Test debut just under a decade ago, and the initial thrashing about centred on a single over in his fourth Test, bowled to Brian Lara at the Wanderers. It went for 28 — still the most expensive over in Test history.
Yet, as always, there was more to it than meets the eye. Four fours and two sixes, yet Peterson refused to stop attacking. He could have fired in a couple of leg-stump darts to stop the bleeding, but South Africa had a big total on the board and were looking for wickets shortly before the end of the third day. Lara was at full speed and a young Peterson backed himself to induce a wheel wobble. He stayed true to his instincts under pressure, and that is why he finds himself where he is today.
Robbie P thinks about the game more than most, and is not afraid to venture into areas previously thought unnavigable. Like the time he thought he needed a "mystery" ball in his armoury and spent months attempting to perfect a chinaman. Some laughed, some humoured him, but he persisted. "You never know unless you try," he said at the time.
Fearing his Test career was over two years ago after three years in the wilderness, and frustrated by the bit part he had played for years in the one-day side, he made himself unavailable for national selection to take up a three-year contract with English county Derbyshire. But he was thrown a lifeline by the national selectors and turned his career around in dramatic fashion with a revitalised performance in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
He could not see a way back into the Test team but decided to stick around anyway and finish his playing days in the warmth of the Cape, rather than the grey of the English East Midlands.
It is a measure of his character that he now occupies the second-most important position in the game among the players, behind Test captain Graeme Smith.
As president of the players’ association, it is his responsibility to bridge the gap between those at the elite end of the game and the 170 or so professional cricketers who ply their trade purely at franchise or provincial level.
Recently, he has also been tasked with dealing with queries regarding the unhappy developments at Cricket South Africa’s (CSA’s) board.
The fact that the South African Cricketers Association lodged an official dispute with CSA at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration suggested the players might have been positioning themselves for a strike, had the new board not included independent directors.
It was a lot to have on his mind as he stepped into the Test XI for the first time in four years against Australia in Perth.
He responded with three wickets in each innings, including those of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke in the second innings, when the Proteas were storming to victory. "At this stage of my career I’m just loving every game I play," he said.
Just when the fish was lying still and people thought its days in the water were over, it arched its back and flicked back to life.
Gary Kirsten rated his wicket-taking ability highly enough to include him in the one-day international XI ahead of Johan Botha, and there is nothing to suggest he is not equally appreciated in the Test XI.