End of Kolpak era in England is boost for South Africa says Abbott

Nick Said
·2-min read
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By Nick Said

PRETORIA (Reuters) - The end of the Kolpak system in England will be a major boost for South African cricket’s attempts to keep its best talent at home in a more competitive domestic scene, according to seam bowler Kyle Abbott.

The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union on Jan. 1 closed a loophole that gave anyone with a work permit from a country that has an associate trading agreement with the EU the same rights as an EU worker.

South African cricketers have been major beneficiaries over the years, signing lucrative contracts with English counties that automatically disqualified them from representing the national team.

Abbott has signed for South Africa’s Titans franchise for the rest of the 2020-21 season, a return to the domestic first-class circuit for the first time since he joined Hampshire as a Kolpak player in 2017.

The 33-year-old was part of the South Africa international set-up at the time across all three formats but has not played for his country since, while having become a leading performer on the county circuit.

He effectively gave up his international career for domestic cricket in England, among 45 South Africans to do so under the Kolpak rule since former spinner Claude Henderson became the first in 2004.

"With Kolpak gone it has closed the door for a lot of guys. That can only be good for South African cricket to keep the players here. The more experience and less watered down the (domestic) system the better," Abbott told reporters on Thursday.

"People don’t realise it was never an easy decision for any of us (Kolpak players). You catch a lot of flak from crowds. As much as South Africans didn’t want to see us go, the English crowds didn’t want to see us there.

"But at the end of the day, it was purely a career decision and I don’t regret anything I did."

Abbott will remain with Hampshire for two more seasons, at least, but now as an overseas professional, which makes him eligible for South Africa again.

"At the moment that is not in my immediate view. I had a very tough 2020 (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), where I bowled about five overs of competitive cricket. So at the moment I just need to get back to the space I was (in) 18 months ago."

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)