South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day January 3, 2010

Ntini linked with Middlesex move

Cricinfo staff

Makhaya Ntini, South Africa's iconic fast bowler, is expected to announce his retirement from international cricket later this week, and could be set to join Middlesex as a Kolpak player after being dropped for the crucial third Test against England at Newlands.

Ntini, the first black African to play for South Africa, made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at the same venue back in March 1998, and celebrated his 100th Test cap against England at Centurion two weeks ago. However, his form in the current series has been poor, with only two wickets at 233 in the opening two matches, while his 29 wicketless overs at Durban were a major factor as England piled up a matchwinning total of 574 for 9 declared. Prior to the start of the third Test, Ntini opted not to take part in the team warm-up at his own request.

On the eve of the Newlands Test, South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, had made it clear that a tough decision was on the cards when he refused to give Ntini his unequivocal backing. "It's a sensitive issue in South Africa, and that's being honest," Smith said. "When senior players are at the point where there are a lot of questions being asked about them it's always a terrible, tough time for any leadership group to manage. We've really tried to support Makhaya and give him as much as we can behind the scenes."

Ntini was this week told by the selectors that he would not be playing at Newlands, and has since been linked with Middlesex as a Kolpak player for the 2010 season. Any such move would automatically confirm the end of his 101-Test career, in which he has taken 390 wickets at 28.82, including 18 five-wicket hauls and four ten-wicket matches, the most memorable of which came at Middlesex's home ground of Lord's in 2003.

"If a player of his quality becomes available, obviously we'd be very interested," Shaun Udal, Middlesex's captain, told BBC Test Match Special. "The next call is down to him but, if he does decide to make himself available, everyone at Middlesex would love to have him. We were made aware through various sources that, if the series didn't go particularly well, he had expressed an interest in playing county cricket of some form and, if anything happens - and it's still a big if - he would like to play at Lord's.

"Makhaya has done well at Lord's, he's got three five-wicket hauls there, and it's the home of cricket, so who wouldn't want to play at the home of cricket if the opportunity arises? If he does decide to come, we'd be absolutely delighted. We've spoken to two or three people about him and not heard one single word of anything but praise in terms of his attitude, his mentality and he was brilliant in the dressing room."

Ntini's place in South Africa's starting line-up has been taken by Friedel de Wet, who starred on his debut at Centurion two weeks ago when he claimed four wickets with the new ball in a memorable final session of the match. His recall is entirely on merit, as he comes into the team to complete a pace attack that also includes Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

"It's a sad time for Makhaya, as it is for any player who gets left out," said South Africa's wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher. "But that's unfortunately one of the things you have to deal with as an international sportsman. I know Makhaya, his attitude will be good, and he'll work really hard on his game."