The Proteas’ depth of bowling resources just took another slide with the revelation that Cape Cobras stalwart Dane Paterson is seeking UK employment … but it is the already challenged domestic game that may rue his departure the most.
The scheming, bundle-of-tricks medium-fast bowler is reportedly in advanced negotiations with Nottinghamshire for either a Kolpak or overseas professional deal.
His situation is just a little unstable as things stand, given the concerns over when (is it even “if”?) the 2020 English season will start, given the ravages of the coronavirus which already mean a muzzling of the game until May 28 at very earliest – the county season would normally begin just before mid-April.
But it is nevertheless apparent that, having just become 31, Paterson has turned his back on the South African landscape he has served with some distinction since first-class debut for Western Province against Griquas at Kimberley (CSA Provincial Three-Day Challenge) in November 2009.
Besides, the danger that the County Championship four-day competition is shelved this summer, in favour of a more profits-conscious emphasis on white-ball activity, could even play nicely into Paterson’s hands: that is where his attributes are often the most valued, and English conditions could suit him well, too.
He has a reputation for generating considerable reverse swing with a well-worn ball, and also thrives on yorker-laden death bowling duties, particularly in Twenty20 cricket where he could light up the annual T20 Blast if he does sign papers at Trent Bridge.
It is the venue where the late Clive Rice, South Africa’s first post-isolation captain on the unforgettable ODI tour of India, shared enormously productive duty with another great all-rounder, New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, for a lengthy period between the 1970s and 80s.
Announcing his squad for the 2020/21 season earlier this week, Cobras coach Ashwell Prince – himself a Nottinghamshire player once, in 2008 – was philosophical over the surrender of Paterson: “Over 30, especially as a bowler, you don’t have that many years left in you.”
Clearly Paterson has simply joined the ever-growing trend of South African players, often those nearing their twilight days, seeking lucrative job security in foreign currency for a few years ahead of retirement.
He was overlooked recently – though his inclusion might have surprised, anyway - when Cricket South Africa revealed a list of 16 contracted players for next summer, despite having made his Test debut (and played one more) toward the end of the home series against England in just-finished 2019/20.
Paterson never quite looked like holding down regular berths for South Africa, despite also featuring in eight T20 internationals (nine wickets at 29.44, and economy rate a tad too close to nine) and four ODIs (four scalps at 54.25), though you might say he was always alive with possibilities.
Still, he joins a mushrooming list of experienced seam bowlers, in particular, who could provide an all-capped, Test-standard attack for the country but for their unavailability through overseas priorities: you could put together Paterson, Kyle Abbott, Duanne Olivier and Marchant de Lange, for example, and give several decent international batting line-ups great discomfort at times.
It is that lack of a suitably street-wise second tier of Proteas bowlers – and players more broadly – that makes things a little more difficult at times for the country than others in identifying known, reliable back-up customers in times of injury-related need and the like.
But where someone like Paterson’s absence is going to be most seriously felt is at increasingly poverty-stricken franchise level, where people of his knowledge and skills levels are crucial for educative purposes in live play - whether to the benefit of team-mates or in properly examining the mettle of often callow opposing players, so as not to give them deceptive senses of their competency levels.
This happens to be a year in which the Cobras, even ahead of Paterson’s exit, are also losing the mass, cumulative years of know-how of other bowlers like Rory Kleinveldt, Vernon Philander and Dane Piedt.
It is a massive sacrifice of wisdom, and the pattern among several other franchises who have revealed, so far, their player groups for 2020/21 does little to suggest collective domestic standards are going to lift appreciably any time soon.
The defection of Paterson to foreign climes only kindles the fear of a contrary trend.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing