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February 26, 2013
Kyle Abbott, Test cricket's latest pace-bowling sensation, is one of many South Africans ruing the international schedule's plans for his country. South Africa do not play Test cricket for the next seven months, with their next assignment a return series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. With the team ranked No.1 in the world there is a disappointment from many quarters, including the players, that they do not feature sooner.
Abbott played his first Test at Centurion against Pakistan and, after becoming the country's second-most successful bowling debutant, he wants more. "I've had a taste and it tastes really good. It's going to be a little frustrating not playing for a while. I feel like I'd love to have another series to showcase my skills again," he admitted.
Graeme Smith, the Test captain, agreed, calling it "disappointing," to be away from Test cricket for such a length of time. South Africa's break would have been shorter but their tour to Sri Lanka was truncated and the Tests postponed to 2015 on request from the SLC. They also have the Champions Trophy to occupy them in the winter.
Smith's major concern is that the sizeable gap between Tests is followed by a challenging tour so "preparation is going to key," he said. "You can't focus on keeping guys on top of their game for six months so the time just before is when we will have to put in a lot of work."
He may be reassured by the strength of South Africa's domestic competition, which will resume before the visit to the UAE and provide a base to restart Test training. According to Abbot, the franchise system is at its healthiest and, given the amount of time he has spent there, he may know.
Until last Friday, Abbott had only played first-class cricket at domestic level, with the exception of one match for the South African Invitation side against the touring Pakistanis. He believes his time in the franchise prepared him adequately to make the step up to the international stage.
"The domestic circuit is at its strongest," Abbott said. "There are a number of bowlers knocking on the door. It's a real credit to the system that we've got, the High Performance Programme and the even the South Africa A which is run really well now. There are good coaches and good structures to prepare guys to the next level so the guys stepping up are ready. I'd say the core of South African cricket is really strong."
Abbott is the fourth pace bowler to be called up to the Test team under Gary Kirsten. All of Vernon Philander, Marchant de Lange and Rory Kleinveldt enjoyed varying degrees of success at international level as proof that the domestic circuit is functioning as it should and producing players regularly.
Only de Lange was selected on potential in the absence of experience. The young quick was part of the South African A side that played against Australia A in October 2011 and his five wickets got him noticed. Due to his express pace, he was invited to national training and picked for the Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka later that year. Injuries have since hampered his progress.
The other three players picked were included on the weight of their performances at the tier lower-down. Philander was the leading wicket-taker in the first-class competition for two seasons before he got a look in, Kleinveldt succeeded him and was rewarded in the same way and Abbott followed suit. He topped the 2012-13 bowling charts with 49 wickets at an average of 15.36 and considered himself ready for the next level.
Abbott also emphasised he was able to make the transition from domestic to international cricket smoothly because he entered a national set-up under no pressure. South Africa have won their last six Test matches and had already beaten Pakistan in the series when Abbott was included in the starting XI.
"If there was ever an ideal situation to make your debut in, this was it," he said. "I could be sitting here with South Africa on the back of ten losses and they are scraping the barrel for new players." With nothing to lose, literally, Abbott was able to "express myself and give it all I could."
Another part of the ease of adjusting to national level was created by the similarities between the management at the Abbott's franchise, the Dolphins, and in the South African squad. "Both Lance Klusener and Gary have created a similar mood in the camp. They put a lot of responsibility on the player and so you get on and do your thing."
Klusener and Kirsten are from the same playing era and although their personalities are vastly different, they would have a similar ethos. Not all the franchise coaches come from that group, though. To ensure everyone is aware of the national agenda, Kirsten has started a coaches road-show in which he included franchise coaches in the South African squad preparation and training throughout this summer.
Abbott admitted there is still a mindset shift involved in playing international cricket but said it happened instinctively for him. "The professionalism and intensity just steps up. That happens automatically. You look down at your shirt and you see the South African flag on your heart and everything just steps up a gear and you don't even realise it." He will see the flag on his shirt again in the Twenty20s against Pakistan and Russell Domingo, the coach in that format, will hope it will have a similar effect.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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