South-Africa's-Kyle-Abbott-(2R)-celebrates
Kyle Abbott and his teammates celebrates the wicket of Ravichandran Ashwin on Day Two (Photo Courtesy: AFP)

When you are 2-0 down and staring a 3-0 defeat, you can’t look back at the series and find out positives. After yet another dismal show with the bat on Friday, South Africa, who were bowled out for 121 in the first innings of the Delhi Test, have now got into a position where they are now staring another defeat. When they go back and evaluate their performance, one standout show has to be Kyle Abbott’s performance. In a Test career spanning almost three years — the tall strong quick from Zululand who has only made sporadic appearances — now has 18 wickets at 17.56.  Scorecard: India vs South Africa 2015, 4th Test at Delhi

There are enough reasons to play the 28-year-old regularly in the side, even when the likes of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are fit. On both the days, Abbott bowled with impeccable discipline and asked the batsmen questions by bowling a strict off-stump line. There were a lot of talks on pitch and how it has favoured the spin bowlers but here is a man, who got his wickets for his relentless accuracy. Kagiso Rabada, who bowled exceptionally in the ODIs, is still struggling to find his mark at the Test level and that’s what he lacked at Nagpur. Had Morne Morkel got better support at the Nagpur strip, maybe things could have looked a bit different for South Africa. Live cricket updates: India vs South Africa 2015, 4th Test, Day 2 at Delhi

Abbott got less movement from the second new ball but he maintained the discipline. For most part of the innings, Abbott’s spell sort of reflected his international career: good bowling but with little rewards. While Abbott asked all the questions, spinner Dane Piedt got majority of the wickets. Also, Hashim Amla dropped two catches off Abbott at first slip, first Rohit Sharma and then Ravichandran Ashwin. It’s fitting that he could end with figures of 5 for 40 in 24.5 overs.

Rewind to February 2013, Abbott replaced an injured Jacques Kallis in the South African XI against Pakistan at Centurion. He grabbed all the headlines with his 7 for 29. He became the second most successful South African fast bowler on Test debut and almost matched his guru and fellow Zululander Lance Klusener’s 8 for 64 that he took at Kolkata in 1996. Kallis came back, he was shown the door and he played his next Test more than a year later and picked three wickets, only to be dropped again. Prior to this series, all he had played was 3 Tests.

Now coming to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Abbott played 4 matches, picked up 9 wickets at 14.44 with an economy rate of 4.19. He was one of the unsung heroes of South Africa’s win against Sri Lanka in the quarter-final at Sydney and in the semi-final, he found himself warming the benches. Of course that was for reasons beyond cricketing and has been more attributed to South Africa’s “transformation guidelines” but this young man had to pay for it as the side crashed out.

A few months later, young Rabada sprung over him to reckoning and benches awaited Abbott. In the ongoing tour, the 1st T20I at Dharamsala saw runs being scored at 10 an over and Abbott finished with 2 for 29 from his four overs. He got only two more games in the six limited-overs games that followed and did decently. He got selected for the Bangalore Test, which got washed out and was dropped in Nagpur. It is not easy being Abbott but he did all he could. In an interview with ESPNCricinfo, Abbott admitted that it’s “frustrating at times” but there’s “nothing he can do about it.” He added, “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. It is a tough situation but I have got my head around it over the last two years and learnt to deal with it.”

He made the opportunity count when South Africa were probably going through their toughest phase in recent times. He will once again have an important role to play when India come out to bat on Saturday. It’s time South Africa see him beyond their fringes and grant him his due.

(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 and rivu7)