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  Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Kirtley puts nightmare behind him
James Kirtley
Kirtley has taken 54 wickets for Sussex this season

For most cricketers, an international debut is a dream come true, but for James Kirtley it became something of a nightmare.

Kirtley impressed in his first match in an England shirt, taking two for 33 in a five-wicket win over Zimbabwe during the side's developmental tour last October.

But his celebrations were cut short by a pronouncement from match referee Colonel Naushad Ali that he had doubts over Kirtley's bowling action and would like to take another look.

I looked for the silver lining as I was remodelling my action
James Kirtley
The referee's actions were in contravention of an ICC edict specifying that a decision must be made and both teams informed before an announcement could be made to the media.

And Kirtley then spent a trying week as subject of scrutiny from not only Ali but the world's media.

But in typical style, he refused to be beaten, taking refuge from the spotlight in getting back to his bowling.

"I will not be losing any sleep over this," he said at the time.

"It was a happy day for me after making my England debut and taking a couple of wickets."

In two further matches on the trip, he took a further wicket and his pace brought economy as England clinched a 5-0 sweep over Zimbabwe.

Tough winter's work

Kirtley's defence was that he has an excessively flexible elbow, which can lead some umpires to believe the arm is being illegally straightened during the final part of delivery.

But an investigation by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on his return identified a problem with his action.

Kirtley and skipper Nasser Hussain
Kirtley was backed by England during a trying time in Zimbabwe
And he was forced to spend the winter ironing it out with bowling advisor Bob Cottam.

It is testament to Kirtley's work ethic that he has returned, complete with modified action, to take 54 wickets in all forms of cricket for Sussex so far this season.

"I looked for the silver lining as I was remodelling my action," he told BBC Sport Online before the season began.

"I saw it as an opportunity to really analyse my action and identify small changes to improve it.

"The result is that I seem to have gained more bounce and the speed tests seem to be faster."

Extra responsibility

In one-day cricket this year, Kirtley's 22 victims have come at an average of 15.45, with a miserly 3.77 runs conceded per over.

But no doubt the highlight so far has been leading Sussex to an innings win over defending champions Yorkshire last weekend.

  Kirtley factfile
Born: 10 January 1975, Eastbourne
First class stats:
382 wkts, ave 25.05, best 7-21
Domestic limited overs:
179 wkts, ave 21.54, best 5-33
Taking on the captaincy in place of the injured Chris Adams, Kirtley finished with match figures of 10 for 90.

Kirtley responded well to filling in for Adams in Sussex Championship promotion campaign last term, and the extra responsibility has reaped rewards again.

Zimbabwe is not a country that Kirtley will want to forget, though, as it handed him his first big break.

It was playing for Mashonaland in 1996 that he took seven wickets in a game against the England touring team, including captaincy triumvirate Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart.

"The only reason to reserve judgment is the fact that he was bowling against England," wrote The Telegraph's Martin Johnson at the time.

"Let us see what he is like against proper opposition."

There was a similar feeling against a beleaguered Zimbabwe team last year, but Kirtley now has a chance in the big time.

NatWest series: England, India, Sri Lanka

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See also:

18 Apr 02 | Sussex
04 Oct 01 | Cricket
12 Oct 01 | England in Zimbabwe
04 Oct 01 | Cricket

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