Simon Harmer and Kyle Abbott would improve the Proteas’ chances of winning Test matches. The last time I checked, that was reason enough for any player to be in the selection mix, argues RYAN VREDE.
Another weekend has passed and with it comes with another bout of wicket gluttony from two South Africans who are playing in the County Championship. Both Harmer and Abbott have been so prolific in the competition in recent years that those who have followed it closely will argue that this is not news.
Coming into this Championship season, Abbott had taken 182 wickets in three seasons in the Championship at an average of 18.62. Harmer had taken 212 wickets at 20.25 in that same period. Two of those three season ended in Essex being crowned champions, his contributions being central to that success.
Their potency has not waned. In the first innings of Essex’s current match, Harmer took a career-best 9-80. In the last three Championship seasons, there has been no brighter star with the ball than Harmer. And he is ours.
Meanwhile in London, Abbott was trying to insert himself in that argument, taking six wickets in Middlesex’s first innings and four in the second, to finish with match figures of 10/85.
Harmer and Abbott are ranked second and fifth for wickets in the Championship and look set for a fourth consecutive season among the competition’s best bowlers.
They are also both available to play cricket for the Proteas, and neither have closed the door on an international return. They would have to negotiate time away from their counties for the upcoming two-Test tour of the West Indies, which poses a challenge, albeit not an insurmountable one.
However, there has been no formal contact from Cricket South Africa with either player, which is utterly perplexing, given their form and the dire state of the Proteas’ Test team, who are ranked seventh. This after a period that has seen them lose seven of 11 Test series since December 2019. Nine of those series have been played on home soil, and one of those series was won against a Sri Lanka side crippled by injury.
There is a disconcertingly large section of the South African cricket support base who argue that their lack of ‘patriotism’ disqualifies the duo. More worryingly, there are a clutch of powerful men within CSA who share this juvenile view.
Emotion and selection aren’t good bedfellows. Data must be the primary driver for selection, and the data shows that Abbott and Harmer are firing. One then does a needs analysis, and in a Proteas context, it would be hard to argue that the team doesn’t need a seamer who possesses Abbott’s skill set and experience, while an attacking off-spinner like Harmer would add massive value, particularly against left-handed batsmen.
I understand why this sentiment towards the duo exists, but don’t accept it as legitimate.
The two players signed Kolpak deals for different reasons. Abbott, who had a national contract and was in the process of establishing himself in the Test team, argued that he was considering his future financial security. When asked about whether he was unfairly treated, Harmer, who played five Tests and took 20 wickets at 29.40, told SABC news in 2019: ‘No I don’t think so. After the (India) tour in 2015 there needed to be some changes. The decision (to sign a Kolpak deal) I made was based on my pathway back into the national team. Realistically, I didn’t think I’d be able to push for a permanent position in the team, and that’s why I decided to sign a Kolpak (contract).’
Abbott’s departure left a bitter taste, which can be easily be washed away with a double shot of emotional maturity. Harmer’s decision to pursue a career in England was completely understandable at the time.
The past should give way to the present. The present features two South African bowlers with the potential to significantly improve the Test team and arrest its slump.
When did that becoming a secondary consideration for selection?