JOHANNESBURG – It’s now become custom for South African cricket supporters to stare north in the winter, and wonder about what might have been, had Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, Simon Harmer, or Duanne Olivier still been available for the Proteas.
All now play their trade as ‘Kolpak’ players on England’s County circuit and all have proved valuable to their respective sides. Meanwhile the Proteas, with a grand generation of players having stepped away from the international game, have struggled, going winless in their last five Tests, including a 3-0 series thumping in India recently.
The atmosphere around South African cricket is quite depressing at the moment, not helped by Cricket SA’s administration which has failed to provide a clear plan for the sport going forward and has been hamstrung by court battles with players and one of its biggest provincial affiliates.
🚨Game day 🚨
Durban Heat is back in action against @SpartansMSLT20 at SuperSport Park, Centurion.
A key appointment - the Director of Cricket - remains vacant and as a result the permanent appointment of a Head Coach for the men’s national team team, just five weeks before the first Test against England, still hasn’t been made.
Abbott, who claimed yesterday that his departure on a Kolpak contract was the result of “difficult conditions personally”, was not buying into the pessimistic outlook many have about the sport in the country at the moment.
“It’s hard to comment on a negative vibe. Everything is negative in the press, which is normal, even when the team is doing well, there’s some sort of negative opinions,” said the 32-year-old, who’s become a mainstay at Hampshire.
These days his only contact with South Africa, from a playing perspective, is in the Mzansi Super League. He is on the books of his home town team, the Durban Heat, who today will face the Tshwane Spartans at a venue that holds special memories for Abbott.
“I’ve always wanted to play in South Africa.
"I left under difficult conditions personally. It was the right move for me at the time. But it’s great to be back, especially here at Centurion, it’s a very special place for me, because I made my Test debut here - almost seven years ago.”
That debut in February 2013 against Pakistan saw Abbott pick up nine wickets including first innings figures of 7/29.
Abbott would only play 10 more Tests over the next four years, before packing for England, citing job security at the time.
His Test appearances were limited given he was always in a support role behind, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and later Kagiso Rabada.
He’s forged a successful career at Hampshire and in the penultimate match of the county season for them, claimed a match-haul of 17/86 against Somerset, the best first class figures in England in over 60 years.
“You go over there with a lot of responsibility and a lot of expectation,” he said of being a Kolpak player.
“It was the first time in the last couple of years that I have been in a senior player’s role, not just as a bowler, but captaining, and vice-captaining Hampshire and having a lot of input. That wasn’t something I felt I was going to get here, so you definitely grow.”
The Spartans and Heat face each other from 5.30pm today.