Former Proteas paceman Kyle Abbott says signing a Kolpak deal in 2016 was the toughest decision of his life but also the correct one.
Following South Africa’s second Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands in January 2017, Abbott announced at an emotional media conference that he had inked a contract with English county side Hampshire, rendering him ineligible to represent the Proteas again.
He was joined by Proteas teammate Rilee Rossouw and the pair have since been performing pretty well over the past few seasons for Hampshire, starring in both white- and red-ball cricket.
Abbott was speaking on the Two Hacks, One Pro podcast, along with one of his teammates at Hampshire, Sam Northeast, when he commented on his tough decision at the time.
‘I went through a couple of months of hell in South Africa after that decision. It was tough and I went into hiding, where as going to the shop at any given point someone had a say. It wasn’t always negative. In South Africa probably 90% of the people understood the decision, but it was still that continuous thing and you could never really get it out of your mind,’ said Abbott.
‘The reception I got from Hampshire was probably the comfort that I needed after that. The way they opened up and really made me feel at home – I consider it home now. If you had to break it down I probably wasn’t that honest with Cricket South Africa at a point, which was six months prior to my decision.’
Despite only announcing his departure during the Sri Lanka series, Abbott admits that he had signed the deal with Hampshire well in advance without anyone knowing – adding he tried to communicate with CSA.
‘It was probably the last straw. I went to them and said, “I am getting approached from people in the UK and I need to make a decision, where are we going with this?” I had a bit of a chat with them [CSA] and then it went quiet. No one asked me again from their side, “How are you doing? Any more stuff come up?” I sort of just went and did my own thing after that.
‘I was playing for South Africa [in a Test series against Australia] and I had already signed for Hampshire and no one knew. I wanted it to be my decision and I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else.’
In his debut season in the County Championship, Abbott took 60 wickets at an average of 18.2. He backed that up with 51 scalps in 2018 but last year Abbott rewrote the competition’s history books in style to spare.
The 28-year-old accounted for a whopping 111 wickets in the 2019 campaign, which included the best County Championship figures since 1956 of 17-86 against Somerset, which is the also the best first-class figures ever by a Hampshire player.
Despite the turbulent times he went through, Abbott is now an established player in the UK and one of the best bowlers in the domestic competitions.
‘At the end of the day it is my job and that has been the hardest part of my career. This is your income, this is your bread and butter. It’s taken me a while. This is a job opportunity and a good job opportunity. We’ve got shelf lives as cricketers and you’ve got the make the most of it,’ he added.