WHEN Kyle Abbott makes his Hampshire debut against Gloucestershire at Bristol on Sunday, he will be playing down the road from his only previous English club.
But he has come a long way from the teenage rookie who starred for Clevedon CC from 2007-08, when he took 73 wickets at 14.5 apiece in the West of England Premier League. “It’s nice to be back in England,” he said, after arriving at The Ageas Bowl during the final day of Hampshire’s opening LV County Championship match, a rain-affected draw against Worcestershire. “But I’m a very different person to the one who came over then with no direction at all.
"I was 19 but didn’t want to study, I wanted to play cricket and that was a perfect opportunity that served its purpose.
“When I came back to South Africa I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, I was a lot more mature.
“So then and now is like chalk and cheese. But I’ll be excited to see a lot of my old teammates, they’ve already bought tickets for the first T20!”
Abbott also played a few Second Eleven Championship games as a trialist for Somerset in August 2006, including one against a Hampshire side including Jimmy Adams, David Balcombe and James Tomlinson at Basingstoke.
“I was chatting to Tomo this morning over breakfast and he doesn’t remember getting me out, but he’s quite eager to dive into cricketarchive[.co.uk] and make sure!
“The guys said he’s usually quite clued up on every wicket that he’s got, but he was a bit stumped!”
Abbott did not take a wicket against Hampshire on that occasion but has gone on to big things in the last 18 months, winning two caps in all three disciplines.
Memorably, he took 7-29 on his Test debut against Pakistan last year and also played in South Africa’s last Test against Australia.
He credits two people for his improvement since his time in the west country.
Graham Ford, whose Surrey team will provide the opposition when Abbott makes his home debut later this month, is one.
“Graham was the coach when I started at the Dolphins, we ironed out a few technical problems and particularly my physical condition,” explains the 26 year-old.
“I was in quite poor shape when I started and he got me on the right track.”
“In the last few years, [Dolphins coach] Lance Kluesener has challenged me on the mental side.
“He’s told me how to construct spells, how to identify opportunities in the game and how to break open a game.
“I was lucky to have both those guys at the right time in my career; to teach me the technical stuff when I needed it and to challenge me on the mental side. It could have been different the other way round.”
Since breaking into the South Africa squad – playing and practising alongside the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander – Abbott has improved further.
“I’m a very simple bowler when it comes to what I try and do and what I like is that every time I ask them a question, their answers are also every simple as well - and they’re at the top level,” he said.
“No-one tries to complicate my mind, they all think on the same wavelength.
“Having Dale stood next to me when I took seven was pretty cool.
“When I had four they said ‘now you get five, six and seven’.
They didn’t say ‘now he’s cracked it open, let me have a crack at the tail’.”
Abbott is looking forward to playing a similar role with Hampshire’s bowling attack.
“I’ve heard many good things about the club from the likes of Neil McKenzie, Immy Tahir and Friedel De Wet,” he said.
“It’s a fairly young bowling attack and hopefully I can pass on little tips that I’ve learnt along the way.”
Abbott insists he will also be on a steep learning curve.
“I’ve always tried to take myself out of my comfort zone, players perform at their best when they have new challenges and that’s exactly how I see this,” he added.