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Kyle Abbott claimed 6 for 77 to bowl South Africa toa series win against Australia at Hobart. (Courtesy: Getty Images)

He lacks the apparent aggression of Dale Steyn. He lacks the pace of Kagiso Rabada and bounce of Morne Morkel. He may not move the ball like a Vernon Philander would. But throw the ball to Kyle Abbott, and he will win you games. In a parallel world he would be the mainstay of South Africa’s bowling, but ours is more grace dominated where grit finishes second. Abbott belongs to a set of players who can be stuck with the tag called ‘unlucky’. However, let us pan our focus from that and zoom in to his heroics at Bellerive Oval that guided South Africa to their first innings defeat win in Australia and in turn the series. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Australia vs South Africa, 2nd Test at Hobart

This is as big as it gets. No team has dominated cricket as much as Australia. The only teams before South Africa to beat the former in three consecutive home series were England in the late 1800s and the dominant West Indies of the 1980s and early 1990s. Abbott, who filled in for the injured Steyn, claimed figures of 3 for 41 and 6 for 77 to guide South Africa to a series win against Australia, who till three Tests back, were still the No. 1 Test side.

Last month, leading 3-0 in the ODI series against Australia, South Africa called Abbott to the side when they opted to rest the top bowlers in the dead rubber at Port Elizabeth. He claimed 4 for 40 and scripted a South African win helping them go up 4-0. He was the Man of the Match and did not hide his disappointment then: It s tough not knowing when you are going to get a game. The key is to still tick the boxes at practice and when those opportunities come, there is no time for questioning out there, have I done the work ? Coming up against a quality batting line-up like Australia, you need to stay on top of your game even if you are not playing.

When a fired-up Steyn injured his shoulder at Perth, the raging discussion was about the replacement: there was Morkel, coming back from an injury; and there was Abbott.

“Kyle Abbott. I know I talked about Morne Morkel missing out, and he should not have, in Perth, but that was (an opinion based on) conditions. I think in Hobart, (with the ball) swinging and seaming, you need an areas kind of bowler. I think Kyle Abbott’s your bowler, he pitches it up, gets it to swing a bit, bowls good areas,” Kevin Pietersen was quoted as saying in Cricket Australia’s official website. “He’ll complement that bowling attack really, really nicely, so fingers crossed the selectors go with Abbott,” he added.

South Africa-born Pietersen is surely a good reader of the game. The team management went with Abbott. He responded with 9 wickets. Perhaps it is time Cricket South Africa gives him his dues.

The Hobart Hurricane

It was a tornado created by the pacers at Bellerive. Abbott’s workload was shared as Philander dismantled the Australian batting. Abbott was happy being the support, sending back Joe Burns and the pacer duo of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Australia were bundled for 85.

Day Two was washed off. Powered by Quinton de Kock’s hundred, South Africa put up 326, taking their lead to 241. Abbott claimed Burns again when an attempted flick just managed to kiss the bat to de Kock’s gloves.

Warner was looking solid at 45. He leapt to glance one fine but the ball struck his thigh, ricocheted off his elbow on its way to stumps. Usually ‘luck’ and Abbott do not find a mention in the same line but the pacer was fortunate with the wickets of both Australian openers. He got two wickets but the spotlight remained on Philander, who continued bowling a tight line, giving nothing away. The gritty Aussies limped to 121 for 2 with Usman Khawaja leading the show with a fifty.

Cut to morning of Day Four. Abbott and Rabada bowled a probing line. The Australian batsmen found it tough to cope against the swing, seam and bounce. Steven Smith did not score a run for over 40 minutes. Khawaja’s edge treated the ball as if they were same ends of a magnet.

Finally Khawaja slashed, and the ball met the edge on its way to de Kock. Adam Voges misjudged the length and his indecisiveness whether to pull or leave saw him commit to front foot with the bat angled towards slip. The ball slid though the bat’s face on its way to JP Duminy at slips. In doing so, Abbott has almost ensured an end to Voges’ Test career with a batting average of 61.87 from 20 Tests.

Numbers can often be misleading. If we break the last 10 Tests into halves Voges has played, he has averaged 342 (no decimals) in the first half; in the next 5 that he has played since the start of the Sri Lanka tour, his average reads 14.80.

Abbott dismissed Starc to complete his third five-for before dismissing Nathan Lyon to finish it off. The Man of the Match award came his way and he was honest enough to express his surprise over how things fell in place.

“We never thought we would get close to bowling them out in a session. From the start of the Test we spoke about winning in the last session, taking it deep and being patient, so when things speed up like that, it is rewarding. But we bowled really well last evening and that was our investment session for this morning,” said Abbott.

‘Unlucky’

Eight Tests, 28 ODIs and 21 T20Is are what Abbott has played. He is into his fourth year in international cricket and the numbers have been impressive to say the least.

Formats M W Ave BB SR Econ 5WIs
Test 8 30 21.83 7/29 48.6 2.69 3
ODI 28 34 30.91 4/21 38.3 4.83 0
T20I 21 26 22.26 3/20 16.7 7.96 0

His best bowling figures of 7 for 29 came in his Test debut. On a February day in 2013, Abbott had dismantled the Pakistan batting at Centurion, claiming match figures of 9 for 68.

Abbott became the second most successful South African fast bowler on Test debut after his guru and fellow Zulu-lander Lance Klusener. Klusener’s 8 for 64 came in Calcutta in 1996-97.

Jacques Kallis’ return saw Abbott being dropped. He waited over a year to play his next Test and at Cape Town. By his own admission, he had bowled better this time against Michael Clarke’s Australia. He sent down 28 luckless overs as Clarke stroked away to a splendid ton. In the next innings, he was the pick of the bowlers, sending back Warner, Shane Watson and Clarke. South Africa lost and Abbott dropped. He did not play another Test in nine months and picked a wicket in that.

In the mean time, he excelled in the ICC World Cup 2015. In the 4 matches he played, he claimed 9 scalps at 14.44 and at an economy rate of 4.19. South Africa finally managed to leap over the knockout hurdle in the quarter-final and he was the unsung hero at Sydney.

South Africa’s habit of digging the axe on their foot saw the side drop Abbott in the semi-final in favour of Philander. Of course, the reasons were beyond cricket and more attributed to the country’s “transformation guidelines”. The South African dream ended there. In following months Rabada rose in the ranks because of his age, skills and pace.

It is tough being Abbot. He spoke about the frustration in an interview with ESPNCricinfo: 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 should not but I guess I m human at the end of the day. It is a tough situation but I have got my head around it over the last two years and learnt to deal with it.

Another 11-month break and an injury to Steyn saw him earn a Test spot in the Bengaluru Test that ended in washout. He was dropped for the infamous Nagpur Test but was picked again in Delhi. In conditions tailor-made for spin bowlers, Abbott bowled with immaculate discipline and tested the Indian stars with a probing off-stump line. He added a five-for to his kitty and that too in unhelpful conditions.

He then played the first Test against England at Durban and fourth Test at Centurion. Two Tests at home against England saw him bag only 2 wickets. He was forgotten for another 10 months until Hobart.

In the meantime, he bagged 3 wickets from 2 ODIs against England, 1 wicket from 2 games in the tri-series in West Indies and 6 from 2 ODIs against Australia. He helped South Africa win the T20I series 2-0 against England with 5 wickets at just over 7 an over. He was South Africa’s best bowler (7 wickets from 3 games at 13) in ICC World T20 2016.

Yes, he makes sporadic appearances and does that. What does he need to do for a longer rope?

He has ensured a berth for the day-night Test at Adelaide. He has never played three Tests on a row and we still do not know if he will, despite of Hobart. But isn’t it time for South African cricket to give the 29-year-old his dues?

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)