TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AN unusual cloud lurked over Newlands for much of the third day’s play in the second test between South Africa and Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
The pall was cast by smoke from veld fires in the area, and at times it was opaque enough to all but blot Table Mountain from the landscape.
But another cloud was cast over the scene, and that despite the fact that South Africa have been on top throughout the match and should take the seven wickets they need to win on Thursday before the Lankans make significant progress towards knocking off the 377 runs they still need to reach their target of 507.
The latter atmospheric phenomenon has a name: Kyle Abbott.
Since Monday night speculation has swirled that Abbott will retire from international cricket next month to take up a Kolpak deal with Hampshire.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) were due to meet with Abbott’s agent on Wednesday but have said they will comment on the issue only after the second test.
Abbott has done the attack the power of good in Dale Steyn’s injury-enforced absence, leading both teams’ averages on the tour to Australia in November and finishing as South Africa’s second-highest wicket-taker.
But he has been shoddily treated by the selectors in the past, most notably when he was left out for the 2015 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland despite being South Africa’s leading bowler in the tournament in terms or average, economy rate and strike rate.
So, would Kagiso Rabada be sad if Abbott was to leave?
“Yes,” Rabada said.
“Ever since I came into the team Kyle has been a great bowler and also a good person to have in the changeroom.
“He’s just a genuine guy. You can easily get along with him.
“He’s shared some advice, especially with myself.
“So, ja, I think it will be sad to see him go.”
Rabada wasn’t asked – and he wouldn’t have been at liberty to answer had he been asked – whether Abbott was on his way to England.
That means it would be unfair to read anything into his comments.
But that won’t stop people from doing exactly that.
For instance, Rabada said he “will be sad to see him go”. Not “would be sad to see him go”.
All will be revealed when the match ends.
Or at least the major details.
But we might never know whether, if Abbott goes, he does so for money or because he feels he has been hard done by – or because he feels he will struggle to get a look-in once Steyn returns from his broken shoulder, which he could do in time to play in South Africa’s test series in England in July.
If Abbott decides to stay, we probably won’t know if all he was trying to do all along was get a better financial deal from CSA.
How many of his teammates knew of his plan, if any?
And how many plan to follow his lead?
The focus of Thursday’s interest, then, will be on matters beyond the boundary far more than on the match.
Best we keep an eye out for smoke signals.