South African pair Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw have turned their backs on the Proteas by signing with England county club Hampshire.
Abbott has signed a four-year deal while Rossouw will be in Southampton for the next three seasons as Kolpak-registered players, which makes them ineligible to represent South Africa at international level.
Following the announcement of the move, Cricket South Africa terminated the contract of Abbott and said it is in the process of doing the same to Rossouw's agreement.
“Regrettably we have no option but to severe our ties with both Abbott and Rossouw as they are no longer available for South Africa,” said CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
“It is a disappointing day not just for South African cricket but also for international cricket as these players have given up their opportunity to be seen in action on the international circuit.
“From CSA’s perspective it is a loss as we invest immeasurable amounts which include premium time, finance, technical, high performance coaching followed by development tours and providing general player welfare over a long period of time.
“By way of example, Rilee has spent a lengthy period on the injury list while we spared no expense in providing him with the best medical support.
“Both Rilee and Kyle have been given opportunities over the past year to play at the highest level and were firmly in our plans for the future.
“We have encouraged Rilee and Kyle to reconsider their decisions but both have indicated that they wish to take up Kolpak contracts.
“Whilst this is a loss for South African cricket we can only wish them well with their overseas careers.”
The move is a huge blow to the Proteas talent pool, in particular Abbott, who starred in South Africa’s Test series win in Australia last November with 13 wickets at 14.84 in two Tests.
Abbott, 29, played 10 Tests for South Africa and captured 39 wickets at 21.30 since making his debut in February 2013.
Rossouw, 27, featured in 36 one-day internationals and 15 T20s for the Proteas but failed to crack into the Test XI.
“Deciding to leave South Africa is something I have thought long and hard about and moving to England will give me and my family the long term career security that I believe is important at this stage of my life,” Rossouw said in a statement.
“I have loved representing the Proteas and will watch from afar with great affection every time they take the field from now on but I am hugely dedicated to making Hampshire cricket successful on the field.
“I would like to express my thanks to Cricket South Africa for the opportunity to represent my country and also for the Knights for their continued support.”
Abbott returns to Hampshire having spent one season at the club in 2014.
“I am delighted to be joining Hampshire for the 2017 season onwards,” Abbott said.
“I have an extremely strong affection with the Club given my previous stints there and can’t wait to get the ball in my hand at the start of the season.
“I would also like to express my thanks to Cricket South Africa and the Warriors for their understanding during this process.
“Making the decision to commit my long term future to Hampshire was undoubtedly the most difficult one I have ever had to make and I leave with more than a little sadness knowing that I won’t represent the Proteas again.
“Representing my country was undoubtedly the biggest honour in my career and I am very thankful for the opportunity to have represented South Africa and the Proteas.”
South Africans are able to play in England under the Kolpak ruling, a 2003 European Court of Justice decision that gave rights of freedom of work and movement to citizens of countries that had signed European Union Association Agreements.
For county cricket, it opened the door for clubs to circumvent restrictions on signing international players and contract South African cricketers as Kolpak players under EU law.
There is uncertainty about the future for the Kolpak ruling following the United Kingdom's referendum in favour of leaving the European Union, which is seen as a factor in the rapidly increasing exodus of talent out of South Africa.
Abbott is the biggest name to move to England after Stiaan van Zyl (Sussex), Simon Harmer (Essex) and Hardus Viljoen (Leicestershire) all chose to choose county cricket over representing their country.
All of these players have been signed as Kolpak players, making them ineligible to play for the Proteas for the duration of their county contracts.
The players are lured to England by far more lucrative deals than they'd get in South Africa; for example, The Guardian reported in December that Van Zyl's deal with Sussex is worth around three times what he would earn for his South African domestic side, the Cobras.
Speaking late last year, Lorgat conceded his organisation was powerless to prevent players chasing bigger money in county cricket.
"We cannot restrain individuals from plying their trade," Lorgat said.
"We have realised a long time back that the world is a global village with people very mobile. Like in every other country and across every other profession, South African citizens will venture abroad to take advantage of stronger currencies and employment opportunities.
"This mobility affects all professions and is not limited to cricketers who ply their trade in English counties."