Kyle Abbott signs for Titans as post-Kolpak era begins

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South African seamer returns to domestic set-up four years after moving to county cricket

Kyle Abbott after taking seven wickets in an innings and 17 in the match for Hampshire against Somerset in 2019  

Kyle Abbott has become the first high-profile Kolpak player to return to South African domestic cricket after signing a short-term deal with the Titans ahead of the One-Day Cup.

Abbott signed a four-year deal with Hampshire in 2017 on a Kolpak registration, meaning he has been able to play as a local player. He has been a star performer in his three seasons at the club, taking 182 County Championship wickets at an average of 18.63, though he missed the 2020 season due to international travel restrictions.

All Kolpak registrations have been cancelled following the end of the United Kingdom’s transition period with the European Union, but an increase in the number of overseas players permitted per team in the County Championship and the Royal London Cup means that several Kolpak players, including Abbott, have simply moved to overseas status. Abbott signed a contract extension with Hampshire in September 2019 which will see him stay at the club until the end of 2022.

The end of the Kolpak era also means that those playing county cricket as overseas players are eligible to represent South Africa again. In practice, many of the candidates have either fallen down the pecking order, or have a strained relationship with the game’s administrators. Last year, Simon Harmer said there was “a lot of bad blood towards the Kolpaks” and that CSA would have to “swallow their pride” to allow them back into the national team fold.

While several Kolpak players have appeared in South African domestic cricket, they have had to play as overseas players in recent years, meaning Abbott’s deal heralds a new era.

Abbott has only played two top-level games of cricket since December 2019 – for Jaffna Stallions in the Lanka Premier League – but is set to feature in the Titans’ opening One-Day Cup fixture against the Dolphins, his old franchise, on Saturday.

The One-Day Cup will be played at a single venue, Potchefstroom, for bio-security reasons. There are also two more rounds of the first-class competition and the final to follow, and the T20 Challenge is due to be staged from March.

“Like everyone, 2020 was a tough year for me in particular,” Abbott said. “I didn’t play for nearly 12 months. I was sitting pretty comfortably in Durban doing my fishing and that, and I felt that going into this new year, [I wanted] to try and get out of my comfort zone. It’s a well-run unit, it’s a professional unit, and I felt it would be a perfect fit for me right now.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98