Why Abbott’s absence will fast be felt

2017-01-05 17:50
Kyle Abbott (Gallo Images)

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 the undertaking.

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 welled up.

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?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  kyle abbott  |  cricket

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