Steyn return threatens Abbott run
After finishing as the joint-leading wicket-taker in two of South Africa's last four T20 series, Kyle Abbott should feel assured of his place in the starting XI but the imminent return of Dale Steyn means he is not. With Steyn certain to play in at least two of the three matches against Australia to confirm his spot in the World T20 squad and space for only one other specialist seamer, Abbott could find himself carrying drinks and his progression halted.
"I always feel like a bowler that needs to bowl a lot and get into rhythms. To play one game in a series is tough," Abbott said. "To get an extended run has really built my confidence."
Abbott has played in South Africa's last 14 T20 matches across six series but never with Steyn, who last played in the shortest format at international level in April 2014, at the previous World T20. South Africa have won three of those series and Abbott played a starring role in the victories. In Bangladesh, his four scalps led the wicket-takers' list along with Aaron Phangiso. At home against England, Abbott's five wickets was the most alongside Imran Tahir.
Abbott has proved himself in a range of conditions and situations, shown ability to swing the ball, threaten at the start and the death and lead an attack that typically includes Kagiso Rabada and allrounders Chris Morris and David Wiese. The problem is that Steyn is expected to do the same thing - albeit a little faster - and that would likely force Abbott out of the side.
Steyn's two-month, injury-enforced break has not dampened South Africa's willingness to have him as their first-choice. In fact, it has only enhanced his status.
"A hungry, fit, energised Dale is a massive plus for us," Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, said. "He hasn't played for a long period of time now and he has come here with a great attitude. He is desperate to play, desperate to do well. He wants to win a World Cup. He wants to be involved in all formats of the game so his energy levels are right up there.
"His skills are always going to be there. It's about making sure the hunger and the passion is there and he definitely has that at the moment."
So the focus is on giving Steyn game time because he has not had any beyond a spell in club cricket last Saturday. "He needs to play some cricket at international level because there is a big difference between club cricket and international cricket," Domingo said.
And if Steyn needs any advice for getting back into the groove, Abbott has some. "Batting has progressed from a guy just standing still to trying to hit you out of the ground to hitting you for a six over the keeper. To keep up with the speed of the game is vital," Abbott said.
Abbott explained that T20 captain Faf du Plessis has instrumental in allowing the bowlers to stay ahead of the game by helping them make decisions about what to bowl, when. "Sometimes it's just gut feel at the top of your mark. Faf is excellent with that - understanding what a batsman is going to do and then narrowing down our options of what to bowl," Abbott said.
But Abbott admitted that it becomes increasingly difficult when things gets heated. "It's so short and quick, this format, that it's sometimes hard to dissect it too much." He may not feel the same way about his selection.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent