James Kirtley announces retirement
James Kirtley, the former England fast bowler and Sussex veteran, has announced that he will retire from first-class cricket at the end of the summer, bringing to an end a 15-year career in which he claimed 614 first-class wickets at 27.04, 19 of them for England in a four-match stint in 2003.
With a wholehearted charge to the crease and an enviable ability to swing the ball late and at pace, Kirtley rarely gave less than his best in any form of the game, and in 2007 his abilities in Twenty20 cricket were recognised when England came calling for one final time for the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa that September.
However, throughout his career, Kirtley was forced to contend with whispers about the legality of an undeniably jerky bowling action. Despite being cleared by an eight-man ECB panel prior to his ODI debut in Harare in October 2001, the doubts were once again raised by the ICC match referee for that series, Colonel Naushad Ali, and in 2005 he was twice reported mid-match, and sent for remedial work at the end of the season.
That Kirtley overcame the doubters and thrived regardless was a tribute to the spirit with which he played his cricket. He first shot to prominence in the winter of 1996-97 when, as a young overseas professional for the Zimbabwe province, Mashonaland, he claimed seven wickets in the match, including first-innings figures of 5 for 53 to set Mike Atherton's England up for an embarrassing eight-wicket defeat, the starting point for one of the most memorably ignominious tours of the decade.
His Test debut, when it finally came in the summer of 2003, was no less eye-catching. Facing South Africa on a broken wicket at Trent Bridge, he squared the series for England with his Test-best figures of 6 for 34, his waspish accuracy proving too much for South Africa as they were bundled out for 131 chasing 202 for victory.
Kirtley let no-one down on the subsequent tour of Sri Lanka in December 2003, which he joined as an injury replacement for James Anderson and in which he played the final two Tests at the expense of Matthew Hoggard. Hoggard, however, returned for the subsequent tour of West Indies, and thrived as the team's "shop-floor steward", keeping things tight for the more venomous trio of Steve Harmison, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff, and so forming the quartet that would go on to win the 2005 Ashes. But as Hoggard himself admitted in his subsequent autobiography, that fourth-seamer role could so easily have gone to Kirtley instead.
Instead, Kirtley returned to Hove where he helped Sussex win back-to-back Championship titles in 2006 and 2007, while also chipping in with his personal highlight, a Man-of-the-Match performance in the 2006 C&G final at Lord's, when his 5 for 27 secured a gripping 15-run win over Lancashire in a low-scoring final.
"The dedication and sacrifices James Kirtley has made for his career have been a constant source of inspiration and an example to any player who has been fortunate enough to have played alongside him," said Sussex's cricket manager, Mark Robinson. "For many years he has led both our one-day and four-day attack and will go down as one of the all-time greats of Sussex cricket."
"Playing for Sussex CCC has been an amazing 16 years of my life and to be a part of such a successful team has been an absolute privilege," said Kirtley. "Whilst calling it a day has been very difficult I will look back on this chapter with many happy memories and I look forward to the challenges ahead.
"I'd like to thank all the supporters, sponsors, the club and all the players for their help and support throughout my career. Sussex CCC is truly a very special place. I hope it continues to be successful both on and off the pitch for many more years."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.