The story goes this. When IPL II happened last year in South Africa, Indian journalists in Port Elizabeth were buttonholed by a voluble taxi driver. He had a captive audience --- PE has very few cabs --- and as he reeled off statistics, they realised he wanted to tell them about his son, Alviro.
"Interview him now," said Petersen senior. "Very soon, he'll become a star and then he won't give anyone any interviews." No one interviewed the son then, but sure enough, a father's prediction turned out to be more than a proud papa's wish.
On Sunday, Alviro Petersen, the son of a cab driver, was handed the South African Test cap by skipper Graeme Smith, even as his Proteas teammates applauded. An hour later he opened the batting with his captain and though Smith fell early, Petersen stood there, nerves calmed, playing the bowlers with defiant ease.
He took only 55 balls to get to 50, hitting 10 fours, utter confidence belying the fact that this was his first Test. His next fifty runs were more watchful, taking 105 balls more, but he got there with relative ease, before being dismissed.
Petersen said knowing in advance that he would probably take Mark Boucher’s place, helped. "Last night, I was told that 99%, I would be playing. So I had an evening to think it over, and visualise what I wanted to achieve. This morning, once I crossed the rope, it was just about my batting."
He said that being an opener helped. "I was determined when I put on the South Africa jersey and it's extra special getting a hundred," said the 29-year-old. Petersen by the way, is from a club called Gelvendale in PE's suburbs, a club primarily known for producing 'coloured' cricketers. In this team, it also has Ashwell Prince and Wayne Parnell.
Petersen's knock could well have ended, for now, South Africa's search for a steady partner for Graeme Smith at the top. In addition, his stand with Hashim Amla, only the second double century partnership between two South African non-whites — Prince and Herschelle Gibbs put up the first against Pakistan in January 2007 — is equally significant.
South African cricket has consciously followed a policy of transformation — to include more non-whites (coloureds, Indians and blacks) into the system and the team. For long though, this system of deliberate inclusion has caused its critics to scream that those of undeserving of Proteas colours were getting into the team. Petersen, along with Amla, Gibbs, Prince and the like before him, is showing that increasingly, the colour of your skin is irrelevant. What you do on the field is what counts.
When asked who he dedicated his ton to, Petersen was refreshingly honest. "Myself," he smiled slowly. "It's for all the hard work I've put in all these years."
That the son of a cabdriver from the wrong side of the tracks can do it in a game primarily played by the middle and upper classes makes it all, all that more significant.