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
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
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
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 www.espncricinfo.com, 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).
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing