Kyle Abbott's stocks in Test cricket had risen significantly in recent times. © Getty Images

Kyle Abbott’s stocks in Test cricket had risen significantly in recent times. © Getty Images

South African cricket was dealt a major blow on Thursday (January 5) as Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw confirmed that they won’t be representing their country again, having signed up Kolpak deals with Hampshire County Cricket Club in the English domestic circuit.

“I am delighted to be joining Hampshire for the 2017 season onwards. I have an extremely strong affection with the club given my previous stints there and can’t wait to get the ball in my hand at the start of the season,” said Abbott, 29, who went wicketless in his final Test for South Africa, against Sri Lanka in Cape Town, through a media release. “Giles White looks to be building a strong squad and I am confident we can have a much improved showing in Division 1 this season and push for white ball silverware as well.”

Cricket South Africa had issued a release on Tuesday saying that they would engage in a dialogue with Abbott’s agent to discuss about his future prospects after reports emerged that he was on the verge of signing up with Abbott. With no progress having been made, CSA cancelled Abbott’s national contract.

“Regrettably, we have no option but to severe our ties with both Abbott and Rossouw as they are no longer available for South Africa,” said Haroon Lorgat, CSA’s chief executive. “It is a disappointing day not just for South African cricket but also for international cricket as these players have given up their opportunity to be seen in action on the international circuit.”

Abbott returned a match haul of 9 for 68 on his Test debut in February 2013 against Pakistan, but had to wait for more than a year for his next cap as Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander formed a formidable pace trio to help South Africa strengthen their status as the No.1 side in red-ball cricket. The emergence of Kagiso Rabada meant that Abbott played only six Tests after his debut before the away series against Australia in 2016-17.

Drafted into the playing XI for the second Test in Hobart after Steyn injured his shoulder during the 177-run win in Perth, Abbott stamped his class yet again. He finished with 9 for 118 as South Africa won by an innings and 80 runs to complete their third successive series win in Australia. He picked up four more wickets in the final Test to finish as South Africa’s second-best bowler of the series.

Steyn’s injury and Morkel’s continued issues with fitness meant that Abbott was an automatic choice for the first two home Tests against Sri Lanka. He took five wickets, including 3 for 63 in the first innings, in South Africa’s 206-run win in Port Elizabeth. He finished his Test career with 39 wickets in 11 matches at 22.71 and a best innings haul of 7 for 29, which had come on debut.

Abbott also took 34 wickets in 28 One-Day Internationals. He had played a key role in South Africa’s progress to the semifinal in the 2015 World Cup, but was curiously not considered for the last-four clash against New Zealand. He finished his Twenty20 International career with 26 scalps in 21 games.

“I would also like to express my thanks to Cricket South Africa and the Warriors (his domestic side) for their understanding during this process. Making the decision to commit my long-term future to Hampshire was undoubtedly the most difficult one I have ever had to make and I leave with more than a little sadness knowing that I won’t represent the Proteas again,” he added. “Representing my country was undoubtedly the biggest honour in my career and I am very thankful for the opportunity to have represented South Africa and the Proteas.”

Rilee Rossouw was beginning to establish himself as a regular cog in the limted-overs sides for South Africa. © Getty Images

Rilee Rossouw was beginning to establish himself as a regular cog in the limted-overs sides for South Africa. © Getty Images

While Abbott’s stocks rose significantly in Tests, Rossouw was on the verge of establishing himself as an important cog in South Africa’s limited-overs team, having been their best batsman during the 5-0 whitewash in the ODI series at home late last year. He made 311 runs in five games including one of his three centuries as South Africa won all the games to start their preparation for the Test tour Down Under.

During the World Twenty20 in India last year, Rossouw had spoken at length of how he was the “makeshift sort of a character” in the team till then, and had elaborated his willingness to do whatever it takes to become a permanent member (http://lk.wisdenasia.com/cricket-article/dont-sledge-rossouw-it-makes-him-better/204110).

Rossouw, 27, finished his international career with 1239 runs in 36 ODIs at 38.71 and 327 runs in 15 T20Is at a strike-rate of 137.97.

“I can confirm that I have agreed and signed a 3-year deal with Hampshire Cricket. Deciding to leave South Africa is something I have thought long and hard about and moving to England will give me and my family the long term career security that I believe is important at this stage of my life. I have loved representing the Proteas and will watch from afar with great affection every time they take the field from now on but I am hugely dedicated to making Hampshire cricket successful on the field,” Rossouw said through a release. “I would like to express my thanks to Cricket South Africa for the opportunity to represent my country and also for the Knights for their continued support. The move to England and Hampshire Cricket is one that I can’t wait to get underway. I have come close to playing county cricket a couple of times in the past and it is a challenge most cricketers want to take on at some stage in their careers and I am delighted it is at a county with as strong pedigree as Hampshire.”

While Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s Test captain, said that they “cannot afford” to have such brain drain, Lorgat pointed at the investments made on developing cricketers right from the age-group level.

“From CSA’s perspective it is a loss as we invest immeasurable amounts which include premium time, finance, technical, high performance coaching followed by development tours and providing general player welfare over a long period of time,” Lorgart said. “By way of example, Rilee has spent a lengthy period on the injury list while we spared no expense in providing him with the best medical support.

“Both Rilee and Kyle have been given opportunities over the past year to play at the highest level and were firmly in our plans for the future. We have encouraged Rilee and Kyle to reconsider their decisions but both have indicated that they wish to take up Kolpak contracts. Whilst this is a loss for South African cricket we can only wish them well with their overseas careers,” he added. “We will continue to invest heavily in our local talent and provide opportunities for those individuals who wish to realise their dream of playing for their country; we will not contract players who do not commit to play for South Africa.”