- A heavily-delayed English county season begins at the weekend with the first round of four-day matches.
- Familiar SA faces like Duanne Olivier and Marchant de Lange will be present, potentially with others to follow.
- Kyle Abbott is just one Proteas-level county stalwart currently stranded in SA due to lockdown restrictions.
A few hours of highly experimental fun earlier this month in the form of the 3TeamCricket festival at SuperSport Park.
That’s all South African cricket followers have had for several months when it comes to on-field exposure for some favourite, household domestic names.
When next the cream of the country’s stars will play remains shrouded in doubt as the coronavirus reaches peak levels.
But at least a smattering of well-known SA figures will return to duty imminently: lucky portions of the raft of South Africans who ply their trade in county cricket, which finally gets underway for a short season, from Saturday, after severe delays to the 2020 campaign.
There will be just two men’s formats in a few frenetic weeks of action, featuring only two competitions: a reworked, curtailed four-day “County Championship” - named the Bob Willis Trophy, in memory of the late England fast bowler and captain - and the Vitality Blast Twenty20 competition.
Why just “portions” of the normally generous pool?
The problem is that several prominent, county-contracted SA players returned to home climes after the last English season and have not yet been able to get back due to lockdown-related issues; expect a few to filter through before the campaign comes to an unprecedented, chilly October close.
Into that category, for example, falls former Proteas stalwart Kyle Abbott, a key element of Hampshire’s seam attack ... but currently stuck in his local home in KwaZulu-Natal.
Several weeks ago, county deals for other leading international players Vernon Philander (Somerset) and Keshav Maharaj (Yorkshire) were cancelled due to the pandemic.
In a BBC Radio interview earlier this week, Abbott admitted it was “touch and go” about whether he would get to the UK in time for any meaningful role in the campaign.
He said Hampshire would have to make a call over whether it was worth it, given that he has several obstacles to conquer: visa renewal, (highly limited) flight possibilities, and then quarantine issues.
That could mean a best-case scenario of four or five weeks yet before he can see action for them.
Abbott has also not had a bowl since March: he said he managed 80-metre laps around his property during the harshest period of SA lockdown, before exercise restrictions were eased, and has more recently been involved in conservation and charity-related work in Zululand.
But he did point out that at least one well-known SA figure, former Proteas fast bowler Duanne Olivier, had made it back to resume his obligations very shortly (he is currently undergoing quarantine) with Yorkshire.
Leicestershire, meanwhile, are due to be captained in all formats for the first time this season by Colin Ackermann, the George-born former Warriors all-rounder who now also represents the Netherlands internationally.
Derbyshire will get now-customary service from Durban-born former KwaZulu-Natal batsman Wayne Madsen, 36, a stalwart there for more than a decade.
Long-time Proteas limited-overs servant and veteran former Titans favourite Farhaan Behardien was due to take up a two-year deal with Durham from 2020, along with another South African in former Cape Cobras batsman/wicketkeeper David Bedingham, although only the 26-year-old latter’s name currently appears on the club website’s squad official list and he was due to play a warm-up fixture for them this week.
Similarly, after agreeing terms earlier this year, hard-hitting new Proteas white-ball find Janneman Malan is not among the Leicestershire squad listed for the Bob Willis Trophy although they may see him later for the T20 activity, beginning on 27 August.
SA Test off-spinner Simon Harmer could be in the same, waiting-game situation as Abbott in terms of availability for Essex, for whom he was so influential in 2019 when they won both the County Championship and T20 competition; he was not part of a warm-up match against Kent early this week, with Stiaan van Zyl and David Wiese also missing from the Sussex ranks against Hampshire.
Glamour London county Surrey, meanwhile, were also likely to begin their first-class obligations at the weekend without yet their existing Proteas strike factor Morne Morkel, or key batting signing and similar SA legend Hashim Amla - scorer of his country’s only Test triple century at their headquarters of The Oval back in 2012.
But Marchant de Lange, the powerful fast bowler who played two Tests for South Africa in 2011/12 and is still only 29, is ready for action for Glamorgan; he played an intra-squad three-day warm-up this week.
*The Bob Willis Trophy will be played in three, regional groups of six, featuring five matches per team, and then a five-day final between the two best-finishing group winners.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing