Johannesburg - Former Proteas coach Eric Simons is concerned that fast bowler Kyle Abbott’s departure may destabilise the Protea’s recent progress.
Abbott had his contract with Cricket South Africa terminated abruptly a few days ago after revealing he had signed a Kolpak deal with English County side Hampshire, meaning he is unavailable for the Proteas as early as Thursday, when they play their third and final Test against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg.
While not critical at all of the 29-year-old’s decision, Simons was more worried about its possible repercussions on the Proteas’ remarkable resurgence in the past six months, a period in which they won three Test series (against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka) and an ODI series against the Aussies by a 5-0 whitewash.
“He’s played a critical role for the team. I wonder if it’s going to affect the morale of the team,” he said.
“We talk about the team being so tight-knit and having such a sense of unity. I think they’re going to miss him a lot.”
Simons said there was another concern, from a playing perspective: “The way he bowls. It is relentless pressure. He gives nothing away.
“When you have a guy like that and Vernon Philander to keep things tight, a guy like [Kagiso] Rabada, who is still young, can afford to be a little wayward and grow in a stable environment.”
With the erratic but much-improved Wayne Parnell and the uncapped Duanne Olivier waiting in the wings, Simons said:
“The question is, can you find someone to do the same things Abbott can do and also be able to support Rabada’s development?”
Simons, who coached the Proteas at the 2003 World Cup, said Abbott’s departure was the only dampener on an otherwise drastic recovery by Russell Domingo from the 18 months in which they lost their 2015 World Cup semifinal, were underwhelming at the World T20 tournament and lost two Test series to India and England.
The comeback has been so ruthless and swift that, just six months later, they are poised for the second ranking in Tests and are second in ODIs after slipping as far as seventh in the former.
Simons said the captaincy, Neil McKenzie’s influence and team unity were responsible for the turnaround.
“I was never a fan of their three-captain structure where they had three different captains for each format. But by hook or by crook they ended up with one captain.
“This is not about Faf [du Plessis] being captain. It’s about having one captain, and one voice, across all formats. I’ve worked with Neil and coached him, so I know the kind of personality he brings.
“He’s positive and has a sense of humour. You can see his influence in the batsmen playing with a lot more freedom and the way they can, even though the team is in a tight spot.
“The third thing is that I get a sense the guys are really playing for one another. I’ve listened very carefully to their interviews and the guys’ humility comes through. You get a sense they understand that there’s a bigger picture than themselves.”