Cape Town – A glance at South Africa’s next two Test series
challenges is probably the best way to gauge the extent to which Kyle Abbott’s now-confirmed,
voluntary goodbye to the Proteas’ plans will affect them.
The national side play respective away series against New
Zealand (three contests) and England (four) between March and August, once they
have completed the remaining, dead-rubber Test against currently outmuscled Sri
Lanka at the Wanderers from next Thursday.
Common denominator? Landscapes that would be tailor-made to
Abbott’s particular skills set.
In short, he is exactly the sort of durable, probing,
up-to-the-bat seamer likely to enjoy the pitches and temperate, sometimes
overcast and damp conditions in each country.
Ironically, of course, the Empangeni-born customer, still
with plenty to offer the game at 29, will be spending plenty of time in England
pretty shortly … except that it will be on a long-time Kolpak county deal with
Hampshire that ends his international career with the Proteas.
Until a few weeks ago, South Africa looked ideally stocked
in the pace arsenal for the series against the Black Caps on their own turf,
given the likelihood then that Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Abbott – all of
them so lethal at times when bowling fullish lengths – would be available for
Suddenly, however, with veteran Steyn again sidelined by
serious long-term injury and Abbott just have beaten a dignified retreat in an
emotional post-Newlands Test press conference, only Philander of the trio will
be able to make that journey.
He and Steyn greedily shared as many as 30 wickets in the
last away series against New Zealand in 2011/12, when the Proteas possibly
warranted better than the 1-0 final score-line in their favour in the
three-Test series, such was their general dominance.
Abbott has never toured the Land of the Long White Cloud for
Test purposes, his career having been debatably limited to 11 appearances against
assorted other foes over the course of some four years.
He quits what was genuinely starting to become a budding,
more consistently active career in the most prestigious format with a fine
record of 39 wickets at 22.71.
It was as recently as mid-November that his man-of-the-match
performance of nine for 118 at Hobart – again, his kind of hunting ground --
was instrumental in the Proteas securing an early triumph in the three-Test
series in Australia, blitzing their way to an innings win in the second.
Those are the sort of qualities South Africa will have to
learn to live without pretty quickly if they are to continue their fresh,
spirited advance up the ICC rankings ladder.
As South African Test batsman of the past Peter Kirsten
reminded in a chat with this writer regarding the Abbott affair earlier in the
Newlands Test against the ‘Lankans – won by a vast margin of 282 runs on
Thursday with copious time to spare – it is well less than guaranteed that the
great Steyn, at 33, will suitably recover from surgery to his bowling shoulder
to resume his Test menace.
Four years his junior, Abbott’s already so proven
credentials would have been an alternative comfort in terms of the Proteas’
bowling depth, Kirsten said, adding that even when he isn’t bagging scalps
himself, he is a pressuring factor who effectively tees up dismissals for
others around him.
Abbott’s press appearance after the Newlands Test was
clearly, almost inevitably difficult for him, especially in the earliest part
as he confirmed the Hampshire deal and his voice faltered a few times while tears
But he also became increasingly composed, even humorous and
more assured, significantly, as he emphasised how the major step had been taken
with his best interests and future security in mind.
Nor was he going to take any pot-shots, on departure, at his
former Cricket South Africa employers, despite frequently enough having been
viewed as a victim of “political” occurrences in Proteas selection.
“There have always been quotas and targets,” he said. “I
won’t use them as an excuse. I don’t feel let down. I can’t feel bitter.”
They were admirable, entirely sincere words from an
uncomplaining, always industrious pro.
The national team are unlikely to go into a tailspin because
Kyle John Abbott has opted out; another dazzling demolition job on a batting
order by 21-year-old Kagiso Rabada over the couple of hours preceding Abbott’s
goodbye only underlined that.
But they’ve surrendered a good ‘un all the same, and that
can never be an all singing, all dancing development, can it?
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