Petersen reflects on lessons Proteas have learnt from a Test great

06 February 2024 - 16:51
By Stuart Hess
Keegan Petersen's 45 was the highest score in South Africa's disappointing first innings total of 162 in Mt Maunganui.
Image: Joe Allison/Getty Images Keegan Petersen's 45 was the highest score in South Africa's disappointing first innings total of 162 in Mt Maunganui.

Facing a deficit of 528 runs three days into a Test for which expectations — from the outside at least — were very low, the Proteas are philosophical about their plight.  

“It is definitely a wicket we can try to look to survive. It will be a tough task to do it for two days, but that is the hand we have been dealt,” Keegan Petersen mused after the conclusion of the third day’s play in Mt Maunganui on Tuesday.

The gulf in class and experience between the two teams has been frighteningly evident over the course of the three days. From Kane Williamson providing proof of his status as one of Test cricket’s great batters to Rachin Ravindra's burgeoning talent and New Zealand’s overall street-smarts, it has made it a humbling experience for the Proteas. 

“It’s been a tough couple of days. We’ve seen enough of Kane now,” said Petersen.

Williamson’s historic performance, becoming the fifth player from New Zealand to score hundreds in both innings of a Test, has provided evidence of the magnitude of the task facing the South Africans.  

In pure numerical terms Williams has outscored the South Africans 227 runs to 162, he’s batted for nearly 70 overs — just three shy of the total South Africa managed in their first innings — and has spent almost 10 hours at the crease, nearly double the time the South African innings lasted. 

Williamson, said Petersen, had provided the template for how to be successful on a tricky pitch, where pace is lacking, and as the South Africans will find out over the last two days, the bounce is increasingly staying low. 

Patience was another big lesson the Kiwi great provided.

“I looked at Kane and how he went about his first innings. He took a bit of time. It’s not a free-flowing wicket, there’s not much in it, but it will take you time to score runs,” said Petersen.

Petersen batted for more than two hours to make 45, his highest Test score since scoring 64 against Bangladesh in Gqeberha two years ago. He got out chasing runs while batting with the tail, so his dismissal is forgivable. David Bedingham’s wasn't.

Much has been made of the South African players’ first class experience, a point Petersen reiterated on Tuesday, but Bedingham, who made 32, batted like he is a rookie, which in Test terms he is, but not first class cricket. He has played 88 matches and while most have been at provincial and county level, he’d have learnt in that time that patience is crucial.

He showed none of it on day three at Bay Oval, as in the sixth over of the day he played an ugly hoick, getting a leading edge and offering a simple catch to mid-off. It was not the kind of dismissal expected from a player with that much talent, but there were signs late on the second day already that Bedingham was growing frustrated as his favourite boundary option through the cover region was being blocked by New Zealand’s well placed field. 

Where Williamson created the means to pick up singles to keep his score ticking, Bedingham continued to seek the boundary and when he didn’t find it, gave his wicket away. 

“It’s something new to all of us. I haven’t played many Tests and I’m trying to find my feet too. Hopefully they can learn from this experience and take it forward,” said Petersen.  

The cards the Proteas are playing with made compiling a winning hand a difficult task anyway, and that was before they even boarded the flight in Johannesburg. They haven’t helped themselves by making an error in terms of selection — and not picking a frontline spinner for the first Test — then dropping both Williamson and Ravindra before they’d reached their hundreds in the first innings and batting with too little nous on what was a good surface.