Cape Town - Makhaya Ntini was dropped from the South African team to face England on Sunday in a move which could hasten the end of the black fast bowler's landmark Test career.
Ntini, 32, did not travel to the ground after being told that he was not in the team for the third Test at Newlands, the ground where he started his 101-Test career against Sri Lanka 12 seasons ago.
Although the team was not announced publicly until shortly before the toss, the players were informed of the selection on Saturday and Ntini was given the option of returning home, according to team spokesperson Michael Owen-Smith.
Ntini's axeing had been widely anticipated after he performed poorly in the first two Tests against England.
In the 2008 calendar year he took only 13 wickets in six Tests at an average of 57.00. Experts believed that a loss of pace had reduced his effectiveness.
Team-mate Mark Boucher, who made 51 on Sunday to help South Africa close on 279-6 in their first innings, said he was saddened by the decision to drop Ntini.
The fast bowler and Boucher played in 96 Tests together, with Boucher assisting in 84 of Ntini's 390 Test wickets with catches behind the stumps.
"It's a sad day," said Boucher, but he would not be drawn into speculation about whether his long-time team-mate would return to the Test side.
"I'm not a selector," he said.
Speculation about the future of a man described by both captain Graeme Smith and coach Mickey Arthur as one of South Africa's iconic cricketers was fuelled by a report in the London Sunday Telegraph which claimed Ntini was set to join English county Middlesex as a Kolpak player, which would preclude him from playing international cricket.
The Sunday Telegraph claimed Ntini intended to announce his retirement from international cricket and that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Middlesex.
Owen-Smith said he was unaware of Ntini reaching an agreement with Middlesex.
"He is contracted to Cricket South Africa which means he cannot sign any contracts without CSA's agreement," he said.
Ntini has had a special status in South African sport as the first black African to play Test cricket for the country. Although three others have also won Test caps, Ntini remains the only black African to hold down a long-term place in the team.
At his best, Ntini was able to bowl tirelessly at high pace. He has taken 390 Test wickets at an average of 28.82, second only to South African record holder Shaun Pollock, who took 421.
Ntini has taken ten wickets in a match on four occasions, the most by any South African, and claimed the best match figures in South African Test history when he took 13 for 132 against the West Indies in Port of Spain in 2004/05.
The decision to drop Ntini was not taken lightly in a country where political considerations are an unavoidable reality.
"It's a sensitive issue in South Africa," Smith said in his captain's pre-match press conference on Saturday when asked about the debate surrounding Ntini's place.