The quick is currently contracted with Hampshire on a Kolpak deal, which allows him to play in the UK as a non-overseas player but prevents him from turning out for his native South Africa. The topic of whether such a cricketer could qualify for England is often discussed, with Abbott’s compatriot, Simon Harmer, telling the Daily Mail at the end of 2019 that he would “love to play for England” but acknowledging that there are barriers.
“I’m in discussions with immigration experts but I don’t know all the Ts & Cs that would need to happen,” Harmer said. “There’s been talk of me qualifying next year, but the only way that could happen is if they changed my visa and backdated it to when I first came over in 2017. I don’t know if that is possible, but maybe if there’s a will there’s a way.”
However, Abbott, talking to his Hampshire captain Sam Northeast, one of the hosts of the Two Hacks, One Pro podcast, confessed that he felt returning to playing for South Africa was more likely than making his debut for England, due to the visa complication.
“You’ve been on the chats when I’ve been winding up Adi [Birrell, Hampshire head coach] about playing for South Africa again when the Kolpaks get kicked out,” he said. “To be honest, I think that’s more of a reality than England. On the visas that we’re on, there’s no possibility that we could ever qualify.”
The end of Kolpak status could hasten the return of the South Africans plying their trade in county cricket to their homeland. Currently set for the end of 2020 when the transition period of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union ends, it is currently unknown whether that might be extended due to the impact of the coronavirus, or whether the ECB might permit counties to field two overseas players from 2021 onwards, as has been suggested by the PCA.
“I want to know what’s happening,” said Abbott. “I want to know, even if Kolpak does fall away at the end of the year, what’s it going to take for me to play [at Hampshire] next year, whether it’s an overseas or whatever. I want to have that nailed down first before anything comes up.”
On the topic of a potential return to South Africa, Abbott says no conversations have started, but he’s enjoying making light of the situation with his coaching staff in England.
“I think there’s a lot of hot air at the moment,” he said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see if that does happen. Who approaches who? Do I approach Graeme [Smith, director of cricket at CSA]? Does Graeme approach me? I don’t quite know how it will work.
“At the moment I’m just enjoying stirring the pot a bit. Just the other day on the group when Adi Birrell said he’s going to start warming up his shoulders for throws and I said I’ll be there. He said you’re buggered, you can’t even get to the UK, I said it’s fine, [South Africa head coach Mark] Boucher will throw at me.”