Cape Town – It has required patience, and he’s shown that,
true to character, in abundance.
At last, though, the scene is promisingly set for Kyle
Abbott, as persevering and wholehearted a competitor as you could wish for, to
properly establish himself as a Test regular for South Africa.
The former Durban favourite, now resident with the Warriors
further down the coast, is going to have to either get injured or be unusually
dud over the course of the Port Elizabeth and Cape Town Tests, you would
imagine, if he is to be deprived of the opportunity to participate in a full
series for the first time when Sri Lanka provide the opposition over three
contests (the final one scheduled for Johannesburg) shortly.
Abbott, 29, has spent most of the time since his stellar
debut against Pakistan at Centurion in February 2013 – match figures 9/68 – as
a decidedly “in and out” feature of the Proteas’ Test plans.
That phenomenon should change for the better from Boxing Day
onward; the least he deserves is the overdue chance to get into a settled
groove in an entire series.
A combination of factors is aiding the likelihood that he becomes
a more adhesive feature … not least that his statistics and recent form,
frankly, demand it.
Despite having been restricted to only two Test caps each
time in the last three series he has seen active service in – the four-strong
one in India, four against England at home and three in Australia very recently
– the bustling, probing seamer sports a sterling 34 scalps from his total of nine
appearances at an average of 21.47 and economy rate barely north of two and a
half runs to the over.
Those are not figures suggesting – or justifying -- a mere
fringe factor in a national side, are they?
By way of comparison, Dale Steyn got to 34 wickets in his 10th
Test, Morne Morkel in his 11th and Kagiso Rabada, similarly to
Abbott, in his ninth.
Another still-active Proteas seam bowler, Vernon Philander,
of course, stands head and shoulders above the others courtesy of his
astonishing start to his own Test career, as he raced to 35 scalps in a mere
But helping to pave the way further for a solid run in the
side by Abbott is the absence of two fellow-pacemen who have previously served
as significant blockages to his presence in the XI, Steyn and Morkel.
The futures of both in the five-day landscape are inevitably
shrouded in some doubt: 33-year-old icon Steyn is out until at least June 2017
following surgery to his bowling shoulder, whilst Morkel, also no youngster any
more at 32, has not played an international of any kind for some six months as
he wrestles persistent back trouble.
Abbott is a dream replacement for either, of course, and
even if the lanky Morkel is back in contention reasonably soon, he will have
his work cut out now to nudge any of Philander, Rabada or Abbott from the team.
Morkel’s best crack at a Test comeback may well only come if
South Africa, at some point, decide it is worth departing from their “three
quicks” policy and revert for the first time in a while to a four-pronged pace
His back-of-a-length qualities, let’s not forget, do provide
a healthy foil to the more consistently up-to-the-bat styles of, for instance,
Philander and Abbott.
Yet normal standards may really be all Abbott needs – and
doubtless he will strive for more than just that – to stay in the team for the
duration of the Sri Lankan series and then onward into a similar three-Test
challenge in New Zealand in late summer.
Conditions in the Land of the Long White Cloud should not
differ a great deal from those experienced when the Proteas rousingly clinched
the Aussie series in damp Hobart a few weeks ago, and it is history now that
Abbott was in his element at Bellerive Oval where he earned the
man-of-the-match mantle and nine wickets.
He is yet to sample any Test activity in New Zealand, but most
observers would not be shy to forecast prosperity for a bowler of his
nip-it-away, “always at ya” hallmarks in that country.
Before that, both St George’s Park and the Wanderers in the
Sri Lankan series will also represent virgin Test territory for Abbott – he has
previously tackled the Baggy Greens at Newlands – but even the first-named
venue, with its slow and low characteristics, is unlikely to daunt him too
Bowling routinely in the correct areas tends to bring
reward, even in Port Elizabeth, where wind direction can also bring quicker men
into play as swiftly as it sometimes takes them out of it.
You won’t hear much whinging from Abbott, either, if the
surface there goes “up and down” as deterioration takes effect towards the
business end of the match.
Enjoy, encourage and appreciate, folks: we may well be
entering Kyle John Abbott’s time as a Test bowler.
Or at very least a staple one …
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing