Last year wasn’t easy for professional sportsmen like former Proteas bowler Kyle Abbott. He managed to use his time off the field productively though, aligning himself with a wildlife community feeding and rhino dehorning scheme …and did the odd bit of fishing! We caught up with Ballito-based Kyle, who recently signed a deal with the Pretoria-based Titans team.
“It’s a strange feeling, seeing a rhino being dehorned for the first time,” says 33-year-old Kyle as he leans back in his chair at Simbithi Country Club’s Fig Tree restaurant where we meet for a coffee. The former Kearsney boy moved to Simbithi five years ago from Durban. “I never thought I would kiss a rhino, but, when she was lying on the ground after being darted, that’s exactly what I did,” he laughs.
Prior to lockdown, Kyle was playing cricket for Hampshire County after signing a four-year deal with them in 2017. When the pandemic hit though, Kyle found himself back home with no cricket to play and time on his hands.
“My Hampshire coach Adi Birrell put me in contact with his conservationist cousin Grant Fowlds from Project Rhino and Springbok rugby player Joe Pietersen of Nkombe Rhino. They were running feeding schemes to give food to rural communities around game reserves where the people would otherwise have poached illegally for bush meat to feed themselves.”
The teams also assist with dehorning rhino in an attempt to deter poachers from killing them for their horns.
Born in Empangeni, Kyle started playing cricket from a young age. He played provincial cricket in his teens and went to Kearsney College on a cricket scholarship.
Kyle spent two years travelling after school and when an opportunity presented itself for him to take on a job as a ‘net bowler’ for the Dolphins team he decided to give it a go. “I moved into a two-bedroom flat in Morningside and was earning next to nothing.” But Kyle made an impression and played his debut match for the Dolphins at the age of 21 in 2009. At the end of that year he signed his first official contract and was thrilled. “I was so happy. I could finally buy a car and had a flat and was super relaxed with life.” But then, Kyle says, coach Lance Klusener stepped into his life and pushed him out of his comfort zone. “I’ll never forget that conversation. He pulled me aside and said two things: firstly that I was going to lead the Dolphins as their main bowler and secondly that I was going to end the season playing for the Proteas. I just laughed at him.”
But Klusener, also a Durban boy who loves fishing, connected with Kyle and pushed him and, in February 2013, he played his first match for South Africa against Pakistan at Centurion. “It was a very special moment and I will never forget it.”
A talented fast bowler, Kyle’s career has seen some major highlights, including taking seven wickets in that debut match – the second best result for a South African on debut in history. “I was lucky because I walked into the best test team in the world at the time. Another highlight for me was beating Australia in Australia in 2016.”
Kyle made the decision to take a Kolpak deal with Hampshire in the UK in 2017. “It was purely a business decision,” he says. “I was turning 30 and wasn’t a regular player with the Proteas – I only played about forty percent of the time. The more you play the more you earn.”
Post-lockdown, Kyle spent a month playing T20 cricket in Sri Lanka for the Jaffna Stallions before returning home and signing his current deal with the Pretoria-based Titans team.
The adventures that cricket has taken him on, he says, are what Kyle is most grateful for. “Cricket has taken me to so many beautiful places, which I would never ordinarily have visited. Places like Bangladesh, India, the Caribbean, Australia, Fiji … and fishing in New Zealand and Trinidad … it’s been an amazing adventure.”
Text: Leah Shone | Cricket Photographs: DAVE VOKES PHOTOGRAPHY