World Cup 2015: South Africa March 21, 2015

Anxious Abbott still second choice

Kyle Abbott, waiting for a positive decision © Getty Images

Kyle Abbott was built to bowl. He is tall, quick, swings the ball and has a good bouncer. He also seems to have been built to bowl in big tournaments. He is aggressive and oozes enthusiasm. But all those bricks may not fit into the house South Africa are building for the semi-final, where Abbott may not fit into the starting XI.

He remains part of South Africa pace-attack's second-tier, behind Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, and he knows it. "It's quite a hard space to be in sometimes, especially if the team is on a roll and there aren't many changes and you're just sort of waiting. But it's also quite exciting because you can get a gap and then it goes well for you and you look like a hero," Abbott said.

That's what Abbott was three days ago - a hero - in Sydney, where he opened the door to a historic quarter-final win when he took the first wicket against Sri Lanka. South Africa ran through their opposition after that and one of the reasons they were able to was because they made the right selection in Abbott, even if they were forced into making it.

Abbott was not part of the quarter-final because he was picked ahead of Philander but because of necessity. A CSA press release explained Abbott's inclusion as a replacement for "the injured Vernon Philander," who missed three of the six pool games with a hamstring strain sustained a month at the MCG, that is troubling him.

Against India, Philander was absent from the field for most of the match after bowling four overs at the start and going off. He returned to bat in that game but was ruled out of the next two.

Abbott slotted in and he seemed a perfect replacement. In his first appearance, against West Indies, he dismissed Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels in successive overs after South Africa had scored 408. In his second, against Ireland, he bagged career-best figures of 4 for 21. But those headline-grabbing feats did not guarantee Abbott a spot in the side for the next match. Quite the opposite.

Philander recovered from his injury and was due to be reinstalled against Pakistan at Eden Park but fate intervened. During the warm-ups, Philander felt discomfort and had to be withdrawn at the last minute. Abbott had less than an hour's notice. Still, he took 2 for 45 in nine overs. For the next match, against UAE, he was benched and then brought back for the quater-final with a little more time to prepare himself.

"I got a heads up the evening before that it was a possibility because Vernon was struggling a bit. I prepared myself the night before to play so it wasn't as rushed as the last game at Eden Park, I had a bit of time to focus and get myself together, which was nice," Abbott said.

The lesson Abbott took from all that was to "make sure I am prepared for every game as though I am going to play. You just have to wing it. What else do you really do?" And so, as the semi-final draws nearer and Philander's recovery continues, all Abbott can do is watch and wait and work on his own game.

"At the moment I still think I am part of it, until I am told otherwise," Abbott said. "It's easier to get myself ready for it and then let down and told I am not playing rather than the other way around - and think I am not playing and then I have to switch on. I would rather switch on from a couple of days out and get my mind ready and then be let down. That's the easier way around."

Expectation and exclusion are not the only things Abbott is dealing with; he also gets to grips with the sense of occasion that has been known to overwhelm players in the past. "It's been of a case of keeping my emotions in check because it's a huge honour and privilege playing here and it's something I have aspired to for ages. That's been more of a challenge for me - not trying to get too excited for a game," Abbott said.

Even as he did, he could not hide his excitement which he admitted has extended to "everything," at this event. "One of my first cricketing memories was the 1999 World Cup, from actually watching international cricket and now to be part of it... now be part of it.... There is a lot inside me which I have had to keep under wraps. We've had time to let loose which has been nice. In eight days' time, there could be a lot of steam let off. " Especially if South Africa have a trophy in hand.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent