The phenomenon of Sean Abbott is a rather unknown commodity outside the Terra Australis, where he went highly unnoticed for his cricketing talent and went noticed for the criticism on it after the Phil Hughes incident in 2014.
That was 2014, when Sean Abbott was a 22-year-old and playing only his fourth season with the New South Wales set up - still trying to make a name for himself as a premier bowler in the country. However, he wasn’t different from the others and that slowly turned into a bane for him as he wasn’t in contention for a place in the Australian squad, in the longest format. But at the same time, he made ripples in the white-ball format, purely because of his sheer pace and a plethora of variations under his sleeve, even making a debut for the national team against Pakistan in 2014.
And a mean bouncer, that was enough to leave the batsmen in shivers. With the Kookaburra in his hand, he still was making slow impressions, with a 6/14 in Queensland’s second innings, where he not only exhibited his proficiency with seam bowling but also showcased time and again that he can pick wickets even without the new-ball. Immediately in the annual awards ceremony next year, the 6ft pacer was named as Australia's young cricketer of the year.
At 23, he already showed signs of promise but still left the selectors wanting for way more, due to the names on the standby list for the longest format. At the time of his Australian debut, he had only picked up 15 wickets in the T20 competition, which led to the belief that it was too early a debut for the pacer, back then. Three T20Is and one ODI later, Abbott was back on the domestic scene, with an eye for variations and a plethora of room for improvement. The race was on, not to become the best in the setup but to become the unique one.
In 2019, he had already picked up 42 wickets in three Big Bash seasons, earned himself the reputation of being a fearsome bowler, a thunderous batsman, and a gun fielder, a combination very rare to see in Australia but still only in the shortest format. There was Jackson Bird, Michael Neser, James Pattinson all leaps and bounds ahead of him for a race with the red-ball, where his breakthrough looked very slim.
His potential was always hailed but the results that came through weren’t sufficient enough to start for Australia and neither did he have the records to suggest that he was out and out a proper all-rounder. In 2020, everything that he was known for was changed and the result - a call-up to the Test squad with a possibility of ‘earning’ a Baggy Green. Australians are never a firm believer of gifting Baggy Greens and Sean Abbott was never a believer in earning a free pass, his selection coincided with his grind and a ‘rare’ lesson during the quarantine period, miles away, in Southampton, all after being named in the limited-overs squad.
Abbott had indeed arrived by then in the setup, with 29 wickets in the preceding season and an excellent spell against Pakistan earlier at home. He was fearsome, thoughtful, and a hardworking cricketer, who did it all possible to be with the Australian team but did he? That’s where he had to take the next step, a one that had the signs of either a ‘make, break or wait’ written all over it. Australia’s rare weakness in the setup was an all-rounder position, a place where they quite couldn’t find the right one, Mitchell Marsh was tried but injuries had another say, Ashton Agar - well tried and failed and lastly, Pat Cummins was handed over the duties but you wouldn’t want Pat to do it all, right?
That’s where someone in Australia had to set up, not Cameron Green, who was still recovering his ways from injury with his bowling. Two other names that struck out - Michael Neser and Sean Abbott, an Abbott who by now was branded an ‘all-rounder’, even though he, his ESPNCricinfo page, and the statistics don’t suggest the same with confidence. Post his return from England, where Australia somehow found themselves in troublesome positions, winning some and losing a lot, the New South Wales man unearthed a new version of himself, one that has put him on the path for a breakthrough into the national team.
17 wickets in three Sheffield Shield games, where against Western Australia, the conditions were extremely lopsided and tilted towards the batting unit, Cameron Green was in his prime form, at 197 and yet he found ways, multiple ways of dismissing the batsmen - the most common being his sharp bouncers. Australia, somehow in between Mitchell Johnson and Starc, have failed in executing the short deliveries to the fullest but Abbott is one of a kind, still surviving on his mean bouncers.
His delivery to dismiss Green, though, was a peach of a ball that swung its way into the right-hander in unplayable fashion, for a batsman in 197. That wasn’t enough still, which made Abbott go on a crazy run with his bat against Tasmania, where he scored his maiden first-class hundred, with 261 runs this season, at 130.50, including two half-centuries and that century. Now his time has come but there’s one more hurdle to pass, to surpass Neser in the race. The Queenslander has been on the Australian list for some time now, he has scored 146 runs this season, with a high score of 121 himself and 10 wickets against his name.
But ultimately, Pat Cummins would need a break from being part and parcel of the setup, which is where Sean Abbott could walk in, he can bowl with the new-ball, can bowl as a change-up, can seam the ball around like Cummins, can bat sensibly and smash some sixes, can bowl the bouncer and most importantly, has the Australian attitude to give it all for the team, to pick up the wickets. That’s where Sean Abbott could come in, should come in, and at 28, he’s ready to play for Australia, in all the truest sense and his first real test would be the ‘A’ game. Yet when you listen to him talk, you can't but rub your eyes in incredulity as to how calm and composed Abbott is, through all the rides and waves.