Abbott determined to make rare opportunities count
It's crowded. It snakes around a corner so you can't tell its exact length. It's frustrating. It's easy to give up when stuck in one. We have all been there. In a queue.
And South Africa fast bowler Kyle Abbott has admitted it can be one of the most difficult places for a professional sportsman.
"I look at the guys who are in the team ahead of me - Dale [Steyn], Morne [Morkel], Vern [Philander]. Their records speak for themselves and I'm not going to walk in and knock them off their perch straightaway," Abbott said after South Africa's victory in the first T20I against Australia. " But we're all here with one goal in mind - playing and winning. I always knew another chance was going to come. That's where it becomes difficult; you've got to be ready at any given time. It's tough, but I feel like I've got it going in the right direction."
Abbott's rise coincided with that of the South African Test team, which turned out to be what kept him on the bench. In the season after South Africa became No.1 in 2012, Abbott was the highest wicket-taker in the first-class competition. Had Abbott achieved that feat at another time, he may have been an automatic pick for the XI, like Vernon Philander was at the start of the 2011-12 summer. But because Philander and co. were turning in champion performances, Abbott had to wait.
His opportunity finally came because of an injury to Jacques Kallis for a Test against Pakistan in March 2013. Despite a seven-for in the first innings and nine wickets in total on debut, Abbott did not play another Test for more than a year until South Africa opted for an all-pace attack, something that cannot always be accommodated.
Abbott's limited-overs career has had similar sprinklings of game time. He played two ODIs in a series against Pakistan last March, all three against Zimbabwe in August when the first-choice quicks were being rested, just one in the triangular series that followed because they had returned, and one of the three matches in New Zealand last month. He has only played three T20s spread over 18 months.
Yo-yo-ing in and out of the side has not given Abbott a chance to show what he is capable of on a consistent basis, but he is starting to understand that even if he manages to offer a glimpse of promise, especially in an area South Africa are lacking, he could stick in the selectors' minds. "When you get an opportunity, it's not always going to be great - it might go sideways," Abbott said. "But I need to make sure I'm well prepared and when that opportunity does come I've got no-one to blame besides myself if I haven't prepared properly."
On Wednesday in Adelaide, Abbott's planning paid off when he delivered a near-perfect T20 return. He conceded less than six runs an over, should have had a wicket in his first over but Cameron White was put down at deep-backward square leg, came back mid-innings and had success, and then hit yorker-length at the end. The last of those things is the most important because South Africa are still looking for a death specialist. Abbott wants it to be him.
"It's been a part of the game I've wanted to take on," he said. "It's an attitude adjustment, and wanting those last couple of overs and enjoying them. People pay money to see bowlers get hit out the ground these days, unfortunately. Everything seems to be going that way. I know I'm on a hiding to nothing, but when it pays off it feels really good."
If Abbott can use the rest of the T20 series in Australia, provided he plays, to carve a niche for himself, he may be able push for more regular selection in ODIs and a place in the World Cup squad. But he faces major competition, not just from the players ahead of him.
Wayne Parnell may come into contention because of his left-arm variation, Marchant de Lange's express pace may be considered handy on Australian pitches and Lonwabo Tsotsobe's return to domestic form and reputation as a former ODI No.1 bowler could see him back in the fold. Abbott is also being pushed from below, where youngsters like Kagiso Rabada are making their mark. "For a 19-year-old to be bowling at 140-odd clicks is really encouraging," Abbott said. "We think he's going to be one to look out for in the future. There is a lot of talent there."
For South Africa, that's exactly what they want, but for Abbott it means the queue gets longer.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent