Cape Town – That steady, willing servant of the national cause Kyle Abbott runs the considerable risk of being pushed into the margins again at the ICC World Twenty20.
The return to fitness after a lengthy absence of iconic pace spearhead Dale Steyn is the crucial development that appears set to largely consign Abbott to wearing a bib in the dugout at the India-staged tournament.
Understandably, many critics assume the two are fighting for one berth in the likely starting XI in most instances -- unless injury mishaps to other seamers intervene and fielding them together suddenly becomes an easier scenario to envisage.
As things stand, the outstanding young Kagiso Rabada and leg-spinner Imran Tahir are absolute certainties in a first-choice attack, and the vogue at present is also to place faith in two big-striking “bowling all-rounders”, David Wiese and Chris Morris, for berths seven and eight in the team respectively.
So that leaves one more pace slot … and it had been occupied with some success by Abbott for a while, ahead of Steyn’s long-awaited and mostly heartening comeback in the narrow loss to Australia in the second of three bilateral contests at the Wanderers on Sunday when the Dolphins competitor sat out.
Both Abbott and the veteran Steyn offer strongly proven, reassuring credentials in all of track record, temperament and skill to justify places in the T20 team, but the million-dollar question is whether they could be accommodated together.
The matter came under the spotlight on SuperSport’s Inside Edge programme on Tuesday, when Steyn’s former Titans and Proteas team-mate Paul Harris said: “I really like the look of the side having Dale back in it … it’s just different when he’s there. I’d like to see him and Rabada bowling together up front.
“Abbott is in the wings, and a pretty consistent bowler, but I think if you’re picking between Steyn and Abbott I’m with Steyn any day.”
Co-pundit and former national captain Kepler Wessels, however, made the point that the two being fielded in the same line-up could be considered in India, where most strong teams will back themselves to post enough runs among front-line batsmen on the usually willow-friendly tracks without having to worry too much about the strength or otherwise of the lower order.
“I do think you can fit both in, and there would (still) be enough batting, but then it’s a simple equation: one of the all-rounders (Morris and Wiese) drops out.”
Increasing the temptation to have Abbott in the mix is his keenness -- and often enough prowess – to offer his services in the pivotal death-bowling phase.
He would also be particularly motivated to excel in another major limited-overs tournament after being controversially left out of the team which lost the World Cup semi-final to New Zealand last year, following alleged intervention from the corridors of powers to field a less-than-fully-fit Vernon Philander.
There will also be some concern over the fact that Morris (T20 international economy rate 8.79) and Wiese (7.36) can be expensive when bowling conditions are not especially in their favour, although both men offer considerably stronger batting oomph than Abbott does.
Nevertheless, wise money suggests that we may, indeed, see a straight Steyn v Abbott shootout for a berth in the XI at the World T20, with the former’s superior career aura and statistical record giving him the edge despite the impediment of rustiness after many weeks of frustrating inactivity.
Steyn has bagged 57 wickets from 39 T20 internationals at an average of 15.98 and healthy economy of 6.49, whilst Abbott (17 games) boasts 19 scalps at 24.00 and inferior economy rate of 7.83.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing