This is a red flag mo­ment – Faf to Cricket SA

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - LUNGANI ZAMA

“I RE­SPECT Kyle’s de­ci­sion. I don’t un­der­stand it, but I re­spect it.”

South Africa’s skip­per, Faf du Plessis, in one response yes­ter­day, pretty much summed up the na­tional sen­ti­ment around Kyle Ab­bott’s de­ci­sion to retire from in­ter­na­tional cricket at the age of 29, and sign a three­year deal with Hamp­shire.

For a man who had just sealed a third straight Test se­ries tri­umph as captain, Du Plessis cut a som­bre fig­ure, no doubt still soak­ing in the full ef­fects of los­ing a strike bowler in prime form, in a se­ries of events that he felt could have been avoided.

“I would have un­der­stood it more six months ago. It is much harder to un­der­stand it now,” Du Plessis sighed.

The Proteas skip­per tried long and hard to talk his fast bowler out of the de­ci­sion to nip short his in­ter­na­tional prospects, but he fi­nally ad­mit­ted de­feat; he could see that it was a done deal.

“I hope that this is seen as a red flag mo­ment by Cricket South Africa,” he urged.

Those are strong words, given that the col­lec­tive lure of the pound, so-called se­cu­rity and pa­tri­o­tism are all in the melt­ing pot when it comes to try­ing to keep South Africa’s best tal­ents here.

There are grow­ing fears that the high-pro­file ex­its of Ab­bott and Rilee Ros­souw, on the back of Si­mon Harmer, Sti­aan van Zyl and Har­dus Viljoen de­part­ing, may see a rash of one-way tick­ets to Heathrow.

While some of those play­ers have an eye on re­turn­ing af­ter im­prov­ing their craft, the likes of Ab­bott are adamant that it is time to say good­bye, and em­brace the com­fort of the county scene.

“I was wor­ried about be­ing dropped for four years,” Ab­bott ad­mit­ted, by way of ex­plain­ing his state of mind.

Some may ar­gue that the threat of the chop had sub­sided in his last four months, iron­i­cally af­ter he had com­mit­ted him­self to leav­ing.

Du Plessis in­sisted that the pow­ers that be must ex­plore ways to keep tal­ent in South Africa, as he also lamented the loss of Ros­souw. While that is the ideal, the re­al­ity is that play­ers’ heads get turned by any num­ber of rea­sons.

“It’s not cash, cash, cash,” Cricket SA chief ex­ec­u­tive Ha­roon Lor­gat ar­gued, when he was asked if the Kol­pak ex­o­dus could be cur­tailed by throw­ing more money at the prob­lem.

“It’s pride, ca­reer, con­ver­sa­tions. It’s the in­vest­ment we make in them holis­ti­cally. It’s other things. Right now we have got some world-class stars who are not here be­cause we pay them sub­stan­tial rands.”

Ab­bott has be­come the high­est-pro­file ca­su­alty to the Kol­pak route, and if the alarm bells were on snooze at Cricket SA be­fore, they are now on full blast.

South Africa’s big de­ci­sion mak­ers pon­dered what to do to safe­guard the likes of Quin­ton de Kock and Kag­iso Rabada down the line. Is the an­swer in pro­vid­ing football-style, five-year deals that at least buy loy­alty?

Or, does a proud Test na­tion bank on pa­tri­o­tism and in­ter­na­tional rel­e­vance still trump­ing pounds and do­mes­tic bliss?

Ab­bott joked about hav­ing to do gro­cery shop­ping af­ter he stops play­ing, but his de­ci­sion to leave South African cricket in his prime may well be the am­mu­ni­tion for sev­eral other coun­ties to see the South African player mar­ket as the prover­bial Black Fri­day.

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