In the spring of 2006, an 18-year-old South African with a bruised heart arrived in Lewdown, a village in west Devon. Having failed to make the final squad for the Under-19 World Cup at the start of the year, and with no clear pathway into a South African provincial team, a season playing for Lewdown Cricket Club in Devon's D division was as good an opening as Kyle Abbott was likely to see, and the quaint village with rolling green hills would serve as a balm to the frustrations back home. "I think when he first came to the UK, he was a bit disillusioned by the lack of opportunities in South Africa," recalls Charlie Hughes, Lewdown's chairman at the time. "He'd got into the provisional squad for the U-19 World Cup, but didn't make the final cut. I think the coaches at his then club, due to the quota system, were pro the black players. From memory that's what Kyle used to say, anyway. But he obviously turned it all around. He did well here, which got him going over there." Abbott took 55 wickets for the Lewdown first XI that season at an average of 7.47. It was not the highest level of cricket, and it would take almost three years before he would make his first-class debut for KwaZulu-Natal, but it was a start. "By performing so well for us he got signed up by Clevedon Cricket Club the next season, and that gave him more opportunities," says Hughes. "They had a game against Somerset as a pre-season or charity match, which helped him get spotted. "While he was with us, we got him into Somerset seconds, where he had a few games. So it was a little stepping stone. Before you knew it he was playing for KwaZulu-Natal, then the Dolphins, and the rest is history. Very proud of him, we are too. I'd like to think he learnt a lot in his three seasons in England, especially on swing bowling."
The time in Lewdown was good not only for Abbott. Hughes says he raised the game of the cricketers around him, who were eager not to be outshone by the overseas player, and was an inspiration to the kids he coached at the club. Lewdown's two previous overseas players had been Australians, but since Abbott's stay they have made a habit of bringing in South Africans. "They seem to work quite well here," says Hughes. "They adapt quickly to the conditions. They're usually well behaved. Usually. But then you never know until they get here. And to be honest, one of the big things for us is the airfare. An Australian airfare is another £500 that the members would have to find." The Home Office tightened regulations this year, but Lewdown were still able to bring in the 18-year-old allrounder Dinecho Visser for the 2017 season after he was recommended by his countryman Johan Wessels, who was a big hit at the club over the past two years, with 1129 runs at an average of almost 90 in the Devon A Division in 2016. Now 25, Wessels is yet to find a place in a provincial team back home, despite his runs in England and for the University of Pretoria, which many would rate as stronger than the Northerns provincial side. Having a South African around has become a part of Lewdown's culture, but the presence of overseas players is not universally celebrated. "Not every club is overly keen," Hughes admits. "If we have a good one that semi-dominates a game, the clubs we play against sometimes complain. But they don't see the bigger picture all the time. Yes, sometimes the overseas player has scored a hundred when we've been 150 all out. However, every club has the opportunity to get an overseas, and we consider ourselves lucky to have chosen so well over the years, with the help of the agents."