Steve Harmison, the England fast bowler, is in the process of signing to play domestic cricket in South Africa with the Lions in an attempt to find match fitness ahead of England's tour of Sri Lanka next month. Team-mate Liam Plunkett, currently out of the national set-up, has also agreed to join the Dolphins on a four-month deal.
Harmison hasn't played for England since the final Test against West Indies, at Chester-le-Street, in June. During the series he picked up a hernia and despite trying to play through the injury it required surgery which ruled him out of the India Test series. Three matches into his domestic comeback for Durham he was struck down with a back injury which ruled him out of the final month of the season.
Despite patchy form for England he was handed a central contract, but it would be a gamble for the selectors to choose him for a demanding tour of Sri Lanka with such little competitive action behind him.
"The ECB are in the process of finalising the details for Steve," an ECB spokesman told Cricinfo. "The idea is for him to play two first-class matches for Highveld Lions in November as a part of his rehabilitation process."
The ECB added that Harmison, who has been working on his fitness with Kevin Shine at the National Academy in Loughborough, would be accompanied on the trip by England's new bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, who is also a county colleague at Durham. A formal announcement is expected within the next 48 hours.
Durham have strong South African connections through their captain Dale Benkenstein, who plays for the Dolphins. He recommended Plunkett to the franchise and Cassim Docrat, the chief executive, said: "We have signed Plunkett for four months."
Cricket South Africa cleared both overseas signings on Tuesday. Although not as prevalent as overseas players in county cricket, the South African first-class game has included English cricketers in the past, notably Matthew Hoggard who developed his game while playing for Free State.