February 23, 2013 by
AB de Villiers described him as “a captain’s dream” and this was after just 11.4 overs in his first Test.
But this was Kyle Abbott South Africa’s vice-captain was talking about after the Dolphins paceman had taken an extraordinary seven for 29 on debut to make sure the third Test against Pakistan at Centurion will always be indelibly linked to his name.
With three days to go, the third and final Test is in South African control as Abbott’s amazing bowling dismissed Pakistan for just 156 and, forced to follow-on 253 runs behind on first innings, they have already lost a wicket in their second innings.
Pakistan’s batting is ill-equipped to handle skilful seam bowling on helpful pitches and many cricketers have enjoyed sensational debuts without kicking on, but Abbott is blessed with the basic, yet seemingly most difficult skills, to make this an idle warning.
The 25-year-old is pacy enough and the nagging line just on or about off stump that he bowls, with his height often giving him steepling bounce, is guaranteed to put batsmen in danger.
Six of the seven wickets Abbott took fell to catches behind the wicket and the Kearsney College old boy is a perfect fit for the preferred South African tactics of controlled aggression, bounce and aiming for the edges of the opposition bats.
“He’s a captain’s dream. He bowls with a lot of control, he’s really consistent, hits the deck hard and finds the outside edges. He gets good torque on the ball and gets the batsmen to play. He was amazing today,” De Villiers gushed.
The Zululand product’s figures were the best ever in the first innings of a debut Test for South Africa (fifth overall) and the second best by a Proteas bowler in his first Test. The South African record is held by Lance Klusener, who just happens to be the lanky paceman’s coach at the Dolphins, and who took eight for 64 in the memorable 329-run victory over India in Kolkata in 1996, the tourists’ first win there.
The famously taciturn Klusener has undoubtedly been the major factor in Abbott’s rise from talented paceman to the best on the domestic circuit, but the advice the debutant received from his mentor on the eve of his big day was of the brief but meaningful variety.
“He phoned me on Thursday night and I was telling him that Jacques Kallis had got injured and I was going to play, and he was just saying ‘yes, ja, ok, yes’, but then he just said ‘keep it tidy’ and that was the end of the conversation,” Abbott said.
The reserved Klusener was unfairly criticised during his playing days for not being a team man, but it must now be official, the man is a man-management genius.
“Lance has been unbelievable, what a guy! He has really helped me mentally the most, he hasn’t changed anything technically. He’s just taught me a different mental approach, to be more aggressive and to hit the deck hard.
“Lance and I have just clicked, he understands what I need to fire and he presses the right buttons,” Abbott said.
While pace and aggression are definitely there, the most impressive aspect of Abbott’s bowling was his probing line just on or about off stump. With the occasional delivery standing up as well, the rookie was in charge from the moment he had Mohammad Hafeez caught in the gully off the last ball of his first over.
After having Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq brilliantly caught in the slips by Alviro Petersen, Abbott had two for 16 from six overs at tea, which the visitors took on 91 for four.
The Pakistanis never recovered from Dale Steyn trapping Asad Shafiq lbw for six in the first over after the break, with Abbott piling on further misery for the tourists by removing Sarfraz Ahmed (17) and Saeed Ajmal, both caught at first slip by Graeme Smith, with successive deliveries.
Ehsan Adil (9) then edged Abbott to third slip and the Sunfoil Series’ leading wickettaker then added the wickets of Mohammad Irfran (0) and Younis Khan (33) to finish with the ninth best debut figures in Test history.
South Africa captain Smith then forced Pakistan to follow-on – to show how positive he is and how much faith he has in his bowling attack – and there was immediate reward as Mohammad Hafeez edged Dale Steyn’s first ball into his stumps.
Azhar Ali (5*) and Younis (8*) then took Pakistan through to stumps on 14 for one.
South Africa’s weakened pace attack had already shown that they meant business as they reduced Pakistan to 91 for four at tea on the second day.
South Africa were right on top, having scored 409 in their first innings after De Villiers’ superb century and strong support from Vernon Philander had considerably boosted their innings from 248 for six.
Resuming on nine without loss after lunch, Hafeez and Imran Farhat looked on their way to just the second half-century opening partnership against South Africa this summer as they reached 46 without loss after 16 overs.
Ed Cowan and David Warner of Australia had been the only other opening pair to prosper as they put on 77 in Adelaide in November.
But the seventh delivery of Philander’s first spell from the West Lane End pitched on middle-and-off and straightened, trapping Farhat lbw for 30 as the left-hander tried to play around the front pad.
The aggressive Farhat had faced 60 balls and hit three fours, but the slips were always interested when he was at the crease.
The next over saw Abbott bowl the first over of his international career. The first ball was too straight and tucked through square-leg for four with the sweetest of timing by Azhar.
The 25-year-old Abbott thereafter settled on a steady line just outside off stump and, being tall, he occasionally obtained steep bounce, making it a risk for the Pakistan batsmen to attack him.
Hafeez did try at the end of his first over and was cramped as the ball nipped back into him, and the catch went low to gully, where it was well-taken by Dean Elgar.
Hafeez had survived for 85 minutes and 44 balls, and scored 18.
Both openers were out within 11 balls of each other and worse was to follow when Philander removed Azhar (6) with the next delivery.
Azhar was conned by a delivery that kept low outside off stump, edging the ball back into his stumps. Although it is not a pitch batsmen can fully trust, it was a lame stroke by Azhar, hanging a limp bat out to dry.
The West Lane End was giving Abbott steep bounce and that’s what undid Misbah ul-Haq, who provided the slips with an edge as he was squared-up. Alviro Petersen dived low in front of first slip to take a great catch and the Pakistan captain was back in the hut for 10.
Younis had been in for almost an hour when tea arrived, but had scored just 13, while Asad Shafiq was with him on two not out.
Philander had taken two for 21 in seven overs and Abbott two for 16 in six, while Rory Kleinveldt, wicketless in eight overs, had been most unfortunate in his first spell.
He beat the bat several times and seemed to have trapped Farhat in front on 27, only for Hawkeye to say the ball pitched outside leg-stump. It merely added more fuel to the fire for those who don’t have complete faith in DRS’s ball-tracking abilities.
The morning belonged to De Villiers and Philander.
It’s becoming apparent that De Villiers is maintaining his brilliant batting form despite having to keep wicket as well, while Robin Peterson and now Philander have made crucial contributions down the order in successive Tests.
South Africa had resumed on their overnight score of 334 for six, with De Villiers on 98 not out, and his second scoring stroke, another classical drive through the covers, brought him three runs and his 16th Test century. It came off 186 balls and included 13 wonderful strokes to the boundary.
Just a ball later, Pakistan had one of two chances to strike an early blow but fluffed it as Philander edged a drive at Rahat Ali which wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed dived for but could not reach, while first slip Hafeez hesitated.
Philander was obviously going to play his shots on Saturday morning and he went to his second Test half-century off 85 balls and made it to 74, a career-best, before Younis proved the surprise package and had him caught low down by Hafeez at first slip.
De Villiers continued to score freely, going to 121 off 215 deliveries, with 15 fours, before he chased after a short-pitched delivery from Rahat and Shafiq took a very well judged catch on the midwicket boundary.
South Africa were all out four overs later as Rahat claimed his fifth and sixth wickets, removing Kleinveldt (0) and Abbott, the debutant who showed some ability with the bat in scoring 13. The straight drive he hit off Rahat for his only boundary was the shot of the morning.
Rahat was the most successful of the Pakistan bowlers, the Centurion pitch providing him with just enough nibble, while the ball also swung for him, and the 24-year-old who entered the Test scene at the Wanderers finished with six for 127 in 27.2 overs.
The debutant, Ehsan Adil, was unable to bowl on the second morning due to the calf injury that took him off the field shortly before the close of play on the first day, so the visitors were grateful for the penetration Rahat provided.