Cricket South Africa have moved to turn Kyle Abbott’s head away from a contract with Hampshire, but face the possibility of losing another recent Proteas player as the rush to secure Kolpak deals in county cricket continues.
While CSA were due to meet with Abbott’s agent on Wednesday (January 4) to discuss his future after a report suggested the fast bowler was on the verge of giving up his international career for greater financial security, Cricbuzz has learnt that South Africa wicketkeeper-batsman Dane Vilas has also been putting feelers out for a Kolpak contract.
With the expectation that Britain’s impending departure from the European Union will put an end to the Kolpak loophole, South African players have been looking to get in before the door closes. Stiaan van Zyl, Simon Harmer and Hardus Viljoen have already signed on with English counties, putting their international careers on hold in the process, while offspinner Dane Piedt has also been seeking opportunities in England.
That makes Abbott and Vilas the fifth and sixth players among those who have represented South Africa in the past 15 months to look abroad for long-term financial security. Players who have represented their country at least once in the past two years or earned five caps over the past five years can qualify as Kolpak players even if they do not have an EU passport.
However, it is understood that neither Piedt nor Vilas has received a concrete offer at this point. Vilas does not have a regular agent and instead represents himself, but has approached several agents with links to English counties in an attempt to secure a deal. With Quinton de Kock having cemented his spot as South Africa’s wicketkeeper-batsman in all formats over the past year, Vilas’s hopes of a meaningful international career have receded. His last Test was almost a year ago, when he was called up as a last-minute replacement for the third Test against England after De Kock was injured on the eve of the match.
Nevertheless, his prospects of earning a Kolpak deal are not necessarily strong. “English counties very rarely sign wicketkeepers, and he’s not good enough to bat in the top five,” noted one source with knowledge of how county deals work. “It will also be tough for Piedt as a spinner. His best chance might be to sign on (as an overseas professional) later in the season when English pitches become tired and spinners come into the game more.”
Although Piedt had an unhappy end to the year with his franchise, Cape Cobras, in disarray due to a dispute between its players and head coach Paul Adams, things are now looking up for the offspinner. While his path back into the Proteas side is currently blocked by the good form of incumbent spinner Keshav Maharaj, Adams was moved upstairs by the Cobras hierarchy in the final days of 2016 and Piedt was installed as interim captain of the franchise.
Meanwhile, Abbott has been faced with a tough decision now that Dale Steyn’s injury has finally given him an extended run in the side. The 29-year-old has endured a frustrating few years since taking 7 for 29 on Test debut in February 2013, playing just 11 of South Africa’s 31 Tests in that period. In the ODI arena, he missed out on potentially the biggest match of his career when he was omitted for South Africa’s World Cup semi-final clash with New Zealand at the expense of Vernon Philander for transformation reasons. Abbott was South Africa’s most economical bowler at the tournament, and also boasted the lowest average.
A report on ESPNCricinfo suggested that Abbott had been offered a deal worth more than 100,000 per year, which equates to around R1.8 million. While he would no longer be able to ply his trade in the Indian Premier League, he would be free to take part in the Big Bash and other domestic Twenty20 leagues that do not clash with the county season. The move would also offer long-term security in hard currency – an attractive proposition given how soft South Africa’s Rand has been over the past five years, when the value of a British Pound has more than doubled.
Nevertheless, the amounts mentioned might not represent a major jump on Abbott’s current earnings so long as he remains a fixture for South Africa in all three formats. South African Test players are understood to earn around R1.5m, while those who play all three formats can earn between R2.5m and R3m a year. This excludes their salary from the IPL. CSA could offer to improve Abbott’s current deal to make sure that they keep hold of him. They are expected to make a statement on the issue at the conclusion of the ongoing Test against Sri Lanka.
Asked about the manner in which South Africa’s players are having their heads turned by the money in county cricket, Abbott’s new-ball partner Vernon Philander said: “Thats a personal decision that each player has to make for themselves, and weve got to respect that as fellow players. If they feel that its the best route forward for them in their careers, by all means.”