South African fast bowler Kyle Abbott announced his retirement from international cricket on Thursday to play in England, catching his employers by surprise and highlighting a growing drain of sporting talent from the country.
Abbott quit immediately after South Africa's victory over Sri Lanka in the second test in Cape Town, saying he had made the difficult decision to sign a four-year contract with Hampshire to ensure his financial security.
He will be joined in southern England by batsman Rilee Rossouw, a one-day specialist, who also announced he was effectively quitting the international game on Thursday.
National coach Russell Domingo suggested he would not have picked them had he known they were leaving, and Cricket South Africa (CSA) said it was considering limiting the number of places in its domestic competitions for Kolpak players.
Several other South African test cricketers, including Hardus Viljoen and Simon Harmer, have also recently taken up Kolpak contacts, which are awarded to those who play county cricket without being considered overseas professionals and are therefore unavailable for international duty.
In rugby union, South's Africa's resources have been decimated by similar departures though national selectors can pick overseas-based players.
Abbott, 29, played 11 tests largely as an injury replacement, while Rossouw appeared in 36 one-day and 15 T20 internationals.
"Rilee’s decision is a big disappointment because he has told us of his decision by e-mail only," Domingo said. "(Abbott and Rossouw) ...haven’t been sincere with us. I’ve been playing these guys in our team without knowing they are leaving."
Test Captain Faf du Plessis said Cricket South Africa needed to guard against similar departures happening in the future.
CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat acknowledged spots should be kept open in domestic cricket for players who wanted to play for South Africa. But he said the country, whose rand currency has weakened steadily for much of the past decade, also had to face economic realities.
Keeping talent at home was "something all sectors are challenged by... be it professional cricket, nurses, doctors or chartered accountants," he said.
A tearful Abbott said he signed his contract five months ago and only intended to tell CSA after next week’s third test but was forced to come clean with the team after the news was leaked.
The decision had been hard, but was the right one to make. "Test cricket remains the ultimate level to play on but security and life after cricket are my considerations." he told a news conference.
"I hope that by showing my commitment over the next four years to Hampshire, I can set up a life after cricket for myself. CSA have terminated his contract and will do the same with Rossouw in the next days, Lorgat added.