New Zealand in South Africa 2015 August 27, 2015

Abbott learning to deal with still being a reserve

A dream Test debut. A memorable World Cup. But Kyle Abbott is still finding it difficult to seal a place in either the Test XI or the ODI XI for South Africa
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'There is not much more I can do' - Abbott

Of the many luxuries professional sportspersons enjoy, certainty is not one of them. That's why we hear them speak about playing every game as though it's their last, or in Kyle Abbott's case, their first. 

Since Abbott became the second most successful South African bowler on Test debut - with 7 for 29 in the first innings against Pakistan in February 2013, behind only his coach Lance Klusener, who took 8 for 64 in 1996 - he has struggled, not to continue the sensation as anyone would, but to keep a regular place in the team and has admitted see-sawing in and out of the XI is starting to bother him. 

"That has been the case since my debut - I didn't go on the next Test series after that so that's something I've had to deal with. It's not an easy position to be in but at the end of the day, you've got to tick your boxes on the field and let things take care of themselves. It is frustrating at times but there is nothing I can do about it," Abbot said after South Africa won the ODI series 2-1 against New Zealand in Durban. 

Abbott was not due to play in that match, and would have been the only member of the ODI squad not to play a game in the series against New Zealand but a viral infection to Vernon Philander provided him with an opportunity to perform in front of his home crowd. He extracted some extra bounce, was economical and executed well at the end of the innings, which should be enough to keep his place but the reality is the next time South Africa take the field, in a month's time in India, Abbott is more likely to be out of the XI than in it. And he knows there is very little, in preparation or performance, he can do to change that. 

"As long as I am happy with what I am doing off the field and giving everything to this team, opportunities eventually come. On the field, maybe I go in search of one [wicket] that I shouldn't but I guess I'm human at the end of the day," he said. "It is a tough situation but I've got my head around it over the last two years and learnt to deal with it." 

Abbott has played three Tests - the first one as a replacement for an injured Jacques Kallis, which explains why Abbott was not retained afterwards, and the next two as part of a four-pronged pace pack. He had to wait more than a year after his first match to get a second, in March 2014, and then another nine months before South Africa chose to employ that strategy, to which they have not returned since, again. His second and third Tests were not as successful as his first but they could hardly have been expected to be. 

The Test attack is settled as long as Dale Steyn, Philander and Morne Morkel are fit, so opportunities are hard to come by and Abbott tried to push for a place in limited-overs formats instead. It was not until the tour to Bangladesh last month that Abbott actually had the chance to play in a full series and that came on the back of a World Cup that would have taken an emotional toll on him in particular. 

Kyle Abbott will now be eager to grab whatever opportunities he gets, with both hands © AFP

Abbott was picked as a reserve bowler in the squad but ended up being South Africa's most successful bowler in terms of strike rate and economy when he filled in for Philander, who was carrying a hamstring strain. But Abbott was embroiled in a selection controversy after he was left out of the semi-final XI in favour of Philander and it later emerged CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat consulted with coach Russell Domingo and then-convener of selectors Andrew Hudson and "impressed upon them the need to properly consider the best XI bearing in mind the transformation guidelines." 

Everything seemed to go south for Abbott after that. At the World Cup he played four ODIs, took nine wickets at an average of 14.44 and a strike rate of 20.6, while conceding at 4.19 runs per over. After the World Cup he played four ODIs, bowled 25.2 overs, took two wickets at an average of 66.50, a strike rate of 76 and economy rate of 5.25. Conditions would have played some part in the disparity, confidence, or lack thereof, would have done the rest. 

Suddenly, Abbott would have realised he may not be the very next person in line, especially as Kagiso Rabada leapfrogged him and all his efforts to assume the death-bowling role, and mastering the yorker permanently could have gone in vain. For now he plans on keeping at it, in the hope his fortunes will change. 

"It's difficult bowling at the back, it's not fun sometimes but when it does come off and you suddenly go for two runs, or you pick up two and you go for three runs it feels pretty good," Abbott said. "It's something I have taken on. There's been a lot more down than ups at the time in the innings but I still think there is something around the corner and a couple of years of hard work and dedicating to those dirty overs in the nets is going to pay off. It might be in the next four or five months." 

The next six months see South Africa embark on the busiest season in recent memory with their longest-ever tour to India and their first hosting of a four Test series against England, in more than a decade, culminating in the World T20. Abbott has no certainty about how involved he will be in those series. All he does know is that he wants to be part of them.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 2nd_Slip on August 29, 2015, 19:34 GMT

    @CREADY-Here is a classic another classic for you: If my memory serves me right before the Zim and Aus triangular series last year, it took Faf du Plessis over 3 years to score and ODI 100 and before that series he was averaging a poultry 28 as a top order batsman and had been given a long rope. Now you claim because it is Behardien a player fitting the quota system it is costing SA dearly?Wow, what logic you have buddy.

  • SunAndSea on August 29, 2015, 12:25 GMT

    Bokfan - Let's see: 1) in the World Cup semi-final, every South African bowler (except Tahir) gave away more runs on average than Philander; 2) NZ were supercharged throughout the tournament and were playing like potential champions; 3) every honest SA fan will admit, the Proteas have this maddening trait of collapsing under pressure.

    But no, the World Cup loss must be because of quotas. Yep, still sounds like bitterness to me.

  • anton1234 on August 29, 2015, 9:32 GMT

    Rabada's stats look good so far, and his selection is not an issue at all. However, there have been numerous other players who have played in the last 10 years at the expense of more deserving.

  • Cready on August 29, 2015, 8:02 GMT

    Ya I think that Abbott should get a few more opportunities than he is getting. To me the Behardien case is the classic, it has taken him how many games (which at times cost SA dearly) to get into form, which he has done now admittedly, but other players just don't get that much opportunity. It remains to be seen whether Wiese will get 30 more games to try and get form with the bat (he didn't do too badly with the ball). Rabada seems a fantastic player, not a pure quota I think, baring the fact that he was put into the team very early. 20 is a bit young for a fast bowler and I worry that he will burn out and get injured. Why not let Abbott play a few whilst Rabada matures more (maybe even to be amongst the best ever if they use him well)? He is quite a bit older than Rabada who still has many years ahead of himself (time does fast bowlers a lot of good). I say give Abbott a bit more chance.

  • dummy4fb on August 29, 2015, 0:44 GMT

    People keep mentioning de Lange but it seems like they all forgot that in his case it was never the quota system or performance that kept him out of the squad but injuries. Ever since his Proteas debut he hasn't been a regular at the Titans (his franchise) because he was often injured.

    As for Rabada, at only 20yrs of age the boy has proved his worth and that he is there on merit. He took wickets at the under 19 WC, took a hatrick in Bangladesh, found himself in a position to take a hatrick in two other occasions, bowled match changing spells, been economical at the death in more than one occasion, etc. What else do you want the boy to do to prove he is good enough to be in the team?

    Yes Abbot should have played that WC semifinal. We are all in agreement on this one, But did Philander have the worst economy in that match? And quota or no quata isn't it almost every international team's unwritten policy that if a player misses a match because of injury they retain their place?

  • niazbhi on August 28, 2015, 23:26 GMT

    This article is about Abbott. He can swing the ball, has decent pace & hardly ever bowls bad balls. He is good at PPs & death. SA has a better chance of winning with him because they have had problems in PPs & death (Philander, styen ve given more runs than expected). Morkel has pace & bounce, but he is not as reliable.

    Philander is economical & leathal at the beggining. Batsmen go after him if they do not see him as a risk. Styen can get a wicket at the beginning or when he is brought back. Still not Mr reliable when it comes to PPs & death. Rabada statistically beat every bowler & he can be SA's best bowler someday. Playing three of these 4 is risky when SA has not run thorugh the opponent line-up. Frankly Tahir has saved Styen-Morkel-Philander's face a few times by taking wickets in the middle overs. How does SA drop those three established bowlers who still have something left in them?

  • GermanPlayer on August 28, 2015, 22:34 GMT

    @SEETHER1 The author of this article accepted after the game that the SA players were surprised(AB threatened to quit) and were down on moral when they found out Abbott won't play. This is not an argument over who the better player is. Philander had a horrendous world cup with injuries. He simply wasn't in the right state to play such an important game. I don't care who underperformed in that game. All I want to see is a team selected purely on merit. Winning or losing is part of the game but you need to plan to win, not to fulfill some quota because of your past injustice to a community.

  • dummy4fb on August 28, 2015, 21:29 GMT

    south africa lost the semi final because they didn't took Kyle Abott, he performed extremely well and still sidelined for vernon, i just dont get that !!!!

  • 2nd_Slip on August 28, 2015, 20:33 GMT

    @GERMANPLAYER-I can also say a Hardus Viljoen was moaning about not being selected to represent the Proteas a couple of months back and was even thinking of relocating to NZ. Guess what, he gets a call up for the SA A side to tour India and gets outperformed by another player who normally gets the "quota" stick from fans like you, Lopsy Tsotsobe. What do you have to say about that?

  • Lance174 on August 28, 2015, 18:54 GMT

    @vrdbb: Steyn is still head and shoulders above any other TEST bowler in the world- every test he plays proves that. He was never the best ODI bowler. You are making a novice mistake of linking his ODI form to his Test ability. He just became the fastest quick bowler in HISTORY(and the second fastest bowler in history) to 400 test wickets- much faster than McGrath, Ambrose, Akram, Warne, Kumble and all the other greats except for Murali and Hadlee(tie second)

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