TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AT 3.43pm at Newlands on Thursday, some four-and-a-half hours after he bowled his final delivery as an international, Kyle Abbott appeared in test whites for a last hurrah.
It really was one more time with feeling.
South Africa’s victory over Sri Lanka in the second test seemed a week old when the squad, support staff and all, spilled onto the outfield and made their way to the middle to sing the team song.
Abbott was the only one among them still in his playing kit, test cap and all, save for a pair of slops where his bowling boots used to be.
The huddle formed and the warbling went up into a cloudy sky.
Then Abbott accepted the hugs and handshakes of people who, until Monday, didn’t know he had signed a four-year Kolpak contract with Hampshire five months ago.
Almost two hours previously Abbott had sat behind a thicket of microphones to explain why he had done such a thing, and come within a single halting, heaving breath of melting into tears.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make through my years of playing cricket but at the end of the day it’s the right decision for me,” Abbott said.
“There has been a few evenings where I have gone to sleep thinking have I made the right decision but I’ve always woken up the next morning knowing I have.
“I have had a great run with Cricket South Africa, I have no regrets at all.
“I have been involved in some unbelievable games and series and I am grateful for that. I feel it is a time in my life where I need to make a career decision.
“I am going to be 30 this year and I feel this is the right path for me.
I have felt over the last four years that I’ve never been far away from being dropped and in the last couple of months it has actually felt like if I do, it doesn’t matter.
“It has been really hard playing with that for various reasons.”
It was all very different from what Abbott had said at another press conference, this one at St George’s Park, as recently as Friday: “The team’s in a great space and so am I. It’s exciting to see what’s going to come.
“You get to put on your cap and play a test match. There’s only 90 or so of us who have played test cricket (for South Africa since readmission) so I count myself incredibly lucky to be able to do it.
“It’s the place where you want to play your cricket.
“We’re enjoying our cricket at the moment because we’ve got that attitude of, ‘This is the place, this is where we want to play, this is the place we want to perform and really be tested’.”
So, might South Africans who accepted those words as the heartfelt truth be justified in feeling betrayed by Abbott?
“Absolutely not,” he said on Thursday. “If I wasn’t committed I would have done this a long time ago.
“I don’t think anyone can question my commitment to Cricket South Africa (CSA).
“I know the coaching staff and people from CSA have never questioned that.
“So I don’t see a reason why anyone else should.
“It is the place you want to be playing your cricket, don’t get me wrong.”
So, why this? Why now?
“It’s four years of security and playing cricket is an incredibly insecure environment for anyone.
“It’s going to take me to nearly 34. It’s quite reassuring.
“I look at things like the 2019 World Cup.
“Would I be playing? Probably not.
“I think how many tests I can probably play in the next two or three years – I’m not going to get to 50.
“I don’t want to regret sitting here in 12 months time where everyone is fit again and I am wearing a bib, and I’m 30.”
Abbott has a point in that he is probably playing for South Africa’s test team only because Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are injured.
But the fact that, by his own admission, he committed himself to Hampshire five months ago and chose not to say so sits uncomfortably.
It makes Abbott seem dishonest, calculating and greedy.
Of course, cricket’s lunatic fringe didn’t hesitate to blame his decision on transformation.
“Ever since I played professional cricket in South Africa there has always been a quota system,” he said.
“I have never used it as an excuse and I won’t use it as an excuse now.
“If you want to buy me some groceries in the next 10 years you are more than welcome to.
“I need to pay bills, I need to buy groceries.”
Fine. But not for Faf du Plessis, who had to keep his team’s eyes off Abbott’s bombshell on the prize of winning the second test and with it the series.
“It was something we didn’t expect but it was also something we couldn’t control in terms of what we needed to do in order to win a test,” Du Plessis said.
“We spoke to Kyle and tried to change his mind but he was very set on what he wanted to do.
“Then it was a case of me getting the team back on track, and that was about making sure all our focus was back on winning this test.
“The guys were brilliant. Even Kyle didn’t want anything to be about himself; he wanted to make sure everything was still about the team.
“And the guys did exactly what they needed to do.
“I was a little bit upset that Kyle couldn’t get one or two wickets.
“I would have liked to see him do well in his last outing. But life is not perfect.”
Those still at Newlands at 3.43pm on Thursday could see that for themselves.