Robin Peterson has hit the winning runs in two World Cup matches, saving South Africa’s blushes in 2007 against Sri Lanka, and four years later giving them a sense that perhaps they had overcome their demons.
As it turned out, that scorching final over against Ashish Nehra in Nagpur when Peterson, pictured, smacked 13 runs to take South Africa across the line, proved to be a facade. A few weeks later, New Zealand harshly reminded South Africa of their World Cup history and the players succumbed.
But Peterson’s two efforts – the first in Guyana when Lasith Malinga took four wickets in four balls, and Peterson then edged him for four to win by one wicket – are illustrations of times South Africa didn’t choke.
“You can train your mind for those situations. I would go into the nets, and practice playing in those situations. It really is up to the individual, your coach is not able to do it for you, you have to do it for yourself.”
That mental resilience is the great unknown about this team. What can’t be doubted is the skill set, particularly in one area that Peterson, like many, feels is the team’s strength.
“The bowling obviously. You look at all of them, they all take wickets, they all have that x-factor with the ball. It’s a well rounded attack that comes at you in so many different ways and it’s capable of even defending mediocre totals,” said Peterson, who played 10 World Cup matches across three tournaments.
Faf du Plessis recognised last year that the best chance for South Africa to win the World Cup was to pick wicket-taking bowlers; Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir.
Because of the pressure they create, when all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo bowls he picks up wickets too – 17 in his last 13 ODIs. Despite that success Peterson worries about how Du Plessis might manage his fifth bowler if Phehlukwayo gets put under pressure.
“It could be a combination of JP Duminy or Aiden Markram, but it will be an interesting challenge for Faf."
And if they decide to change the composition of the starting XI, Peterson fears Dwaine Pretorius’s medium pace will be targeted as well, which is why he is perplexed about Chris Morris’s omission.
“I understand that he frustrates everyone, because he blows hot and cold,” Peterson said of Morris, “but he does bowl 140, and can hit it far and you want someone like that around. He may not be in your starting team, but he can change a game quickly, and it’s nice having that kind of explosive option available.”
The batting is the big concern, particularly the over-reliance on Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, and that one of the most experienced players, Hashim Amla, is not in form and seemingly devoid of confidence.
“It’s a steady batting line-up and Hashim’s pedigree and calmness was something the selectors couldn’t overlook. They won’t be relying on one superstar either, and that may not be a bad thing. It gives a sense of responsibility for everyone to perform.”
While Peterson believes South Africa can chase scores of 350 or more – “if conditions are flat,” – the big test will be different. “Can they chase 280 against India and their spinners on a worn track late in the tournament – like in a semi-final? That will test their skill and they will need to believe in themselves and have the mental strength to withstand that pressure.”
There are no expectations of South Africa for this year’s World Cup. They go into the tournament ranked at no.4 in the ODI format. Of late much of the talk has been about favourites England and India, Australia’s (currently ranked fifth) resurgence and West Indies’ (ranked ninth) awesome power.
“You don’t have to be the best team to win the World Cup,” said Peterson. “Pakistan have shown that, India showed it too in 2011. It’s an open tournament, any one of six teams could win it and you would include South Africa in that group because of their bowling.