World Cup inclusion reflects on how a simple piece of advice from Pat Cummins turned his career and how Australia hope to repeat their 2021 bubble triumph
Abbott finally a peer, not a casualty, of the big three
For his entire career, Sean Abbott has lived in the shadows of three generational fast bowlers. Born in another era, he might already have the Baggy Green he craves and become a mainstay of Australia’s limited-overs teams.
But rather than viewing his proximity in age and location to Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood as a curse, Abbott acknowledges their conveyed wisdom has helped turn his career.
One moment in particular stands outs.
At the tail-end of the 2016-17 domestic season, Cummins returned from injury to play a rare Sheffield Shield match for NSW to leave Abbott, not for the first or last time, relegated to carrying the drinks.
Cummins was player-of-the-match and soon on a plane to India to join Australia's Test tour. Before he left, the future Test captain had some advice for Abbott, whose red-ball career has been stuttering, that has stuck with him.
"We went out for a quiet beer and I was just chatting to him about bowling and he said, 'honestly mate, I do not try and swing it, I just try to bowl straight down fourth stump and eventually they'll just nick them'," Abbott told the Unplayable Podcast from Bloemfontein ahead of Australia's first ODI against South Africa.
"When he said that, I just tried to grab that and run with it, because here is a guy that is averaging low-20s for his country, his strike-rate was ridiculous and still is, and all he's telling me to do is bowl down fourth stump.
"His message to me was just to keep it really simple.
"For most of my bowling up until then, I tried to swing it both ways, do this, do that, and basically I was just getting carted everywhere and averaging over 40.
"It was nice to sit down with Pat and chat cricket, and the one thing I took from it was to simplify things and just try to hit fourth stump over and over again."
Six years on, Abbott is finally a peer, rather than a casualty, of the big three after being picked as the fourth paceman behind the premier trio in Australia's ODI World Cup squad.
It is a mark of the 31-year-old's resilience, having made his international limited-overs debut nearly a decade ago and advanced to the fringes of the Test team in recent years, yet has never commanded a permanent place in any team.
While he knows his Blues teammates will likely get the first crack when Australia's World Cup campaign gets underway in India next month, Abbott is justifiably proud having straddled the fringes of international cricket.
"It does get a bit intimidating sometimes when you have guys like Pat, Hoff and Starcy doing well game in and game out," said Abbott, who has played 23 limited-overs games for Australia but only five with multiple members of the big three alongside him.
"You have guys that are coming in and out (of the Australian team) and who are just as talented.
"You're like, 'I feel like I'm five or six players back now' and then you don’t have a few good games back on the domestic circuit.
"I feel like I'm in a more fortunate position than anyone else, because they are three such good people and they're very giving with their time.
"They allow me the space to chew their ears off about cricket if they're coming back to play Shield cricket. I get the chance to spend time with them, see how they go about it, talk to them about what it's like at that level."
As it stands now, the 50-over format suits the overlap of Abbott's strongest assets; a vastly improved red-ball skillset and a T20 wicket-taking knack that has made him the KFC BBL's all-time most prolific bowler.
His lightbulb moment with Cummins in 2017 has had a material effect on his long-form prospects. From his first-class debut until the ensuing Shield season, Abbott was averaging nearly 40 with the ball. Since the start of the ‘18-19 season, that mark is down to a tick above 26.
Winning a Baggy Green remains his ultimate dream but Abbott acknowledges the danger of his own tendency to gaze beyond what's right in front him.
Right now, that’s the chance to add to a rich one-day cricket legacy by lifting a World Cup trophy.
While all three of his pace partners featured in the squad that won the ODI title in 2015, it is Australia's 2021 T20 triumph that Abbott has found to be the more common touchpoint for a large contingent of players likely playing in their final 50-over World Cup.
"That World Cup gets spoken about a lot," Abbott said of the men’s team’s maiden T20 title won in in a UAE COVID bubble. "We've already had a few dinners where we're sitting around and guys are … showing photos and I'm asking questions about it.
"The guys were bonding and playing golf, that was their escape from playing games. When they turned up to games, we were seeing this team play some unbelievable cricket … they almost flicked a switch when they got onto a cricket field.
"That's all dependent on the personnel you have got around at the time. There's a different dynamic here. Some guys have come in and some guys have dropped out.
"But I'd imagine this World Cup, and while we're over here in South Africa, it's probably going to be something similar."
2023 Qantas ODIs v South Africa
September 7: First ODI, Bloemfontein (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 9: Second ODI, Bloemfontein (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 12: Third ODI, Potchefstroom (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 15: Fourth ODI, Centurion (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 17: Fifth ODI, Johannesburg, 6pm AEST
Australia ODI squad: Mitchell Marsh (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Spencer Johnson, Marnus Labuschagne, Tanveer Sangha, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
South Africa ODI squad: Temba Bavuma (c), Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Brjor Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen