Abbott saga: Things we’ve overlooked

2017-01-10 10:15
Kyle Abbott (AFP)

Cape Town – The emotion and the array of contrasting domestic views surrounding the abandonment of South African cricket by Test incumbent Kyle Abbott have unwittingly clouded several key issues or developments that accompanied his Kolpak-related decision.

Here are three, I would argue:

1 His unequivocal support for the direction Cricket South Africa is going in with regard to the national team

For someone perhaps inevitably branded “disloyal” or “mercenary” in some circles, Abbott’s views at his sometimes difficult, tear-suppressing press appearance after the Newlands triumph over Sri Lanka hardly reflected those of someone presenting the proverbial middle finger to former employers.

By stark contrast, the player who turns 30 in mid-year was at pains to emphasise that his career decision, as he put it, indicated that he bore no grudge over transformation matters in the South African game or, by extension, his much-publicised eleventh-hour omission from the Proteas’ World Cup 2015 semi-final team.

He went further, in suggesting there is far more of a sing-from-the-same-song-sheet phenomenon in the national set-up than had existed several months or years ago: “As recently as the New Zealand Test series, we went back and had a culture camp. Since then, not only has the team turned around (results-wise) but the issues the team had with various things regarding selection … that’s all been addressed.

“The team is definitely going on the right path, and so is Cricket South Africa.”

For someone not always given the fairest of shakes in selection terms, it could be argued pretty staunchly that Abbott’s exit was far more conciliatory, remorseful and, in fact, praise-laden for the hand that once fed him than it was in any way angry, bitter or smug.

2 The far from irrelevant bit of history that passed by relatively unnoticed in the Newlands Test which became Abbott’s swansong

It got lost a bit like a rogue sock sticking to the rim in the washing-machine drum, but the ongoing, largely budding quest for a more “representative” national team ticked a new box in the crushing, 282-run series-clinching victory over the ‘Lankans.

Yes, some would mutter that it shouldn’t matter anyway, but for the first time in South African Test history, every single one of the 20 opposition wickets taken in the Test match was seized by a player of colour.

Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander got four wickets each and Keshav Maharaj two in the Sri Lankan first innings, whilst in the second Rabada was right back on song with six, Philander earned three and Maharaj one.

In the quirkiest of ironies, the want-away Abbott, only white frontline member of the attack, failed to get in the wickets column, even if he applied pressure well to the benefit of his colleagues – something he is traditionally renowned for and an area where he will be missed.

It is increasingly clear that a healthy, entirely natural renewal is taking place within the Proteas camp, even as brain-drain setbacks like the departure of Abbott and others must not be under-estimated for their harmfulness to the broad cricket cause in the country.

3 That fact that, generally, reaction to his decision seems to have been more temperate and sympathetic abroad than at home

Do we sometimes get overly wrapped up in parochial, often very SA-specific sensitivities? Do we over-analyse, over-“angst”, if you like?

It is worth chewing on, when you examine the gamut of fiery responses within South Africa – either way, and often with little in between -- to Abbott’s defection.

An impromptu assessment of overseas reaction, particularly on social media avenues, suggests that experts abroad take a more measured approach to Abbott’s decision, pointing to the business/career sense they perceive to be involved … above any “political” hot potatoes.

Former England batsman Mark Butcher (@markbutcher72) said on Twitter: “Professionals playing the flawed system … don’t hate the player.”

Former India Test player Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash), meanwhile, opined: “Players are concerned about their present and future … considering their short shelf-life, they must not be blamed.” 

There is also global public acknowledgement, perhaps, of the unique complexities in the SA game which can make selection for the Proteas that bit less clear-cut than might be the case elsewhere and possibly help force the hand, to an extent, of players like Abbott and Rilee Rossouw.

In a poll on the leading cricket website, which had already generated some 44,000 responses at the time of writing, the question was asked: “What is the key factor behind the current spate of Kolpak signings?”, with three reply options.

As many as 52.58 percent of respondents chose “The pressure on SA players due to transformation targets”, above “ICC’s failure to protect the primacy of international cricket” (32.92 percent) and “Counties loading up on players amid Brexit uncertainty” (14.50 percent).

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  kyle abbott  |  cricket

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