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Cricket: BEARS SEAL NTINI DEAL.

Byline: GRAHAM HILL and PAUL BOLTON

WARWICKSHIRE are set to clinch the signing of South Africa paceman Makhaya Ntini within the next few days. As revealed in the Sunday Mercury last week, the Bears had been considering Ntini as a potential overseas player for next season.

Warwickshire have already approached the United Cricket Board of South Africa to check on the availability of the fast bowler but now it is understood that he is ready to agree a deal with the county once the fifth Test against England at the Oval has finished. One source close to the player told the Mercury last night: 'Ntini should be joining Warwickshire on Tuesday.'

But Ntini's countryman, Shaun Pollock, has told the county that he is unlikely to return to Edgbaston for a third spell as an overseas player next season.

All-rounder Pollock, who played for Warwickshire in 1996 and again last season, is concerned that a long-term ankle problem will not stand up to a full season of county cricket after a hectic international schedule this winter.

'We have spoken to Shaun about coming back but that looks less and less likely,' said Warwickshire's chief executive, Dennis Amiss. 'He's concerned about his ankle and, with the workload he has coming up, he's worried about playing a full season of county cricket.' Warwickshire have still not ruled out Pollock rejoining them on a short-term contract for part of next season when there will be no restrictions on the number of times counties can replace their two overseas players.

Meanwhile, the Bears are expected to release former captain Neil Smith and seam bowlers Melvyn Betts and Mo Sheikh when the county's committee meets tomorrow to decide on next season's playing staff.

All three players are out of contract at the end of the season and were told during a performance appraisal last week that the cricket management would recommend to the committee that they should not be offered terms for next year.

WARKS SLIP -SPORT P28
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 7, 2003
Words:332
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